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USAFE forces deliver U.S. Marines to Liberia, evacuate 23 people


Release Date: 7/23/2003

By Capt. Kristi Beckman 398th Air Expeditionary Group

LUNGI, Sierra Leone (USAFENS) -- U.S. Air Force HH-60G Pavehawk helicopters from the 56th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, Naval Air Station Keflavik, Iceland, based at an intermediate staging base here, flew a U.S. Marine Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team to the U.S. Embassy in Liberia Monday, and evacuated 23 people in the process. The action comes in the wake of growing civil unrest in Liberia.

The FAST, with its complement of 41 Marines, is designed to augment security forces at American embassies within the U.S. European Command's area of responsibility. The team arrived in Sierra Leone earlier in the day from NAS Rota, Spain, aboard a Kentucky Air National Guard C-130 Hercules transport plane. The plane is currently assigned to the 38th Airlift Squadron (Provisional), Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

The 56th ERQS and the 786th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron from Sembach AB, Germany, together form the 398th Air Expeditionary Group. The units have been staging here since July 13 to provide personnel recovery and emergency evacuation capability for the Humanitarian Assistance Survey Team already in Liberia.

"Since their arrival, the aircrews and the entire team have conducted extensive mission planning to include possible courses of action and contingencies," said Capt. Sonny Noyes, 398th AEG battle staff director.

First Lt. Jarrett Lee, 786th ESFS combat ground intelligence officer, said a mission like this one is not easy. "We need to plan for different scenarios such as where we'll stage for fuel, where our alternate airfields will be, and if there's an in-flight emergency, where would we stop? If the environment changes and different courses of action show themselves that weren't planned, that's when flexibility is the key."

"Flexibility came into play during this mission," said Tech. Sgt. Michael Griffin, 56th ERQS flight engineer and gunner. "The mission of our three helicopters was to get the FAST in and get just a few people out, although we ended up taking out over 20 people.

"We took up to nine combat-loaded Marines and cargo per aircraft and flew over the water right into the helipad at the embassy," said Griffin. "One helicopter landed while the other two held over the water. We took turns until all Marines were off-loaded and the people were picked up."

Griffin said they got a report from the embassy that there was mortar fire within 300 meters the first time they went in. "We left to unload the passengers. Then, on the trip back to the embassy for another in-fill, they held us because of the heavy mortar fire."

"We felt no sense of immediate danger and the way the people were standing around in the embassy, we could tell they didn't feel any danger either," said Lt. Col. Thomas Sexton, 56th ERQS deployed squadron commander. "The mortar fire probably came as a huge surprise to them as well."

"The helos would take Marines into the embassy, meet up with a deployed MC-130P from Mildenhall, England, that was overhead providing command and control, and fuel, and then fly back to a forward staging area to pick up more Marines," said Col. Steven Dreyer, 398th AEG commander.

A flyaway security team from the 786th ESFS consisting of security forces, a communications specialist and an independent duty medical technician controlled the forward staging area.

"The forward staging area was important because it shortened the crew's flying time and allowed us to get more birds into the embassy at any given time," said Maj. James Lowe, 786th ESFS commander. "We provided communications between the staging base at the tactical operations center at Lungi and the forward staging area."

"Everything flowed smoothly, according to plan," said Sexton. "We've been talking to the 786th SFS (part of the 86th Contingency Response Group based at Ramstein AB) since April planning a separate exercise, so we knew their capabilities.

"We can support them with increased security protection and airlift and they can give us base operations support," he added.

"The mission went well," said Dreyer. "The extensive planning we did paid off. We knew there was a chance of enemy fire and were prepared. The 56th trains for combat operations and they are prepared to support worldwide."

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