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American Forces Press Service

Navy 'Angels' Delivering Relief Supplies to Indonesia

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 1, 2005 - U.S. Navy helicopters "appeared like angels" as they delivered supplies to Aceh province, Indonesia, according to the provincial governor.

Navy Capt. Rodger Welch told reporters during a teleconference that provincial officials appreciate the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Battle Group now afloat off the island of Sumatra.

Carrier Air Wing 2 helicopters are delivering supplies to the most badly damaged area following the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit on Christmas. Officials in the region said the death toll is approaching 150,000. Millions more across the Indian Ocean are homeless.

News reports said the death toll in Indonesia alone may exceed 100,000. Thailand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, the Maldives, India and Somalia were hit by the tsunamis spawned by the earthquake.

Welch said U.S. military assessment teams report that Thailand is handling the unprecedented situation well. Sri Lanka is making progress with supplies backing up at the main airport in the capital of Colombo. India has a well-developed infrastructure and is dong well. Indonesia, however, was the hardest hit, and the infrastructure in Aceh province effectively was destroyed. "There is like one road in Aceh," Welch said.

American helicopters are delivering relief supplies to the tens of thousands of people who need them. The helicopters are also transporting those in need of medical care. The sailors are working with the Indonesian military, relief organizations and other governmental groups to get the supplies to those most in need, Welch said.

The sailors aboard the ships in the battle group are readying relief supplies for delivery. "They are baking and freezing bread, for example," Welch said. He said the carrier group also can provide medical support, water desalination capabilities, bedding and other capabilities the Indonesians need.

Other assets are moving into the region. The Air Force has sent 10 C-130 Hercules transport aircraft to lift supplies around the nations. Two to four Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo jets are available for heavy lift capabilities.

In addition to the Lincoln Group, the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group will move into the area as soon as Jan. 2, Welch said. The sailors and Marines bring a lot of capabilities to the region. Originally, the group was due to sail to Sri Lanka, but that may change, Welch said.

The Navy also is sending Environmental and Preventive Medicine Unit 6 from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to Indonesia, Welch said. The unit - with a full laboratory - will help the Indonesian medical establishment monitor water quality and check for the presence of disease.

Joint Task Force 536 at Utapao, Thailand, now has about 350 personnel and is coordinating the U.S. military effort in the region. Welch said the speed of the build-up is encouraging. "Remember, this disaster struck just a week ago," he said.

Pre-positioned ships have left Japan, Guam and Diego Garcia to deliver water, food, medical supplies, trucks and heavy equipment. Those ships should arrive in a week, Welch said.

The Indonesians in Aceh are grateful for the U.S. help, Welch said. Aceh province has a long, festering Muslim revolt against the government in Djakarta, and news reports in the past said al Qaeda terrorists had found a welcome there. Welch said U.S. forces will take whatever precautions they need to operate in the area. But, in the aftermath of the disaster, U.S. personnel are not seeing any hostility, he added.

Welch said this is the largest U.S. military effort of this type he can remember. The scope of the disaster -- it is 1,500 miles from the base at Utapao to Sri Lanka, for instance -- and the devastation requires a worldwide response. The U.S. military has the unique lift capabilities to deliver relief supplies quickly. U.S. personnel also have experience working with allies. The effort in the region now has forces from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Germany, India, South Korea and Canada, among others.

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