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15th MEU (SOC) gives HA supplies a 'lift' aboard BHR

Marine Corps News

Story Identification #: 200516113233
Story by Lance Cpl. Scott L. Eberle

MEDAN, Indonesia (Jan. 6, 2005) -- Shortly after the sun peeked over the horizon, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable)’s helicopters roared to life on the flight deck of USS Bonhomme Richard for another day of service offering relief and humanitarian assistance to thousands people recently left devastated after the Dec. 26, 2004 earthquake and subsequent tsunamis.

The CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters’ mission was to collect aid that needed to be transported to the other side of the island, and the massive storage space of USS Bonhomme Richard and USS Duluth were perfect for the job.

After filling their helos with external lift supplies, they section of aircraft flew to warehouses filled with supplies at the Polonia Airfield here. The cargo was palletized and brought to Expeditionary Strike Group shipping where it will be delivered to some of the harder hit areas of Sumatra, the hardest hit island of Indonesia. This mission was perfect for 15th MEU (SOC) because their specialized six-month training package focuses on those missions.

Supplies from all over had been consolidated here in Medan, a city on the eastern boarder of Sumatra. Medan was virtually untouched by the tsunami, but its location and condition of local roads makes the transport of the supplies to the western side of the island difficult.

After plans of flying the supplies to more affected areas had been cancelled due to high mountain ranges in the middle of the island, it was decided that the 15th MEU (SOC) would load all the supplies onto their ships and transport them to the other side.

An group of logistical experts from the Bonhomme Richard flew out first thing in the morning for assessment and suitability of areas for more military transportation vehicles to land in the city of Medan. Once it was declared suitable, a working party of Marines was flown in to start building pallets full of all the supplies to be flown back to the ship.

The Marines worked late into the afternoon building pallets as helicopters continued to fly them out to the ships. Once the helicopters dropped the cargo on the flight deck, Combat Cargo Marines worked vigorously to store the gear inside the ship and clear more room for cargo to come aboard.

The following day brought the same story for all the Marines and Sailors. The Polonia airfield was a buzz of constant activity as Marine and Navy helicopters consistently flew in to pick up more supplies. Lifting supplies both internally and externally, the 15th MEU (SOC) transported humanitarian aid from shore to ship as quickly as possible.

As the quantity of supplies aboard the Bonhomme Richard constantly rose, the lump of supplies in the warehouse began to dwindle. With the hangar bay of the Bonhomme Richard almost full of aid, the troops aboard get ready to make their way around the island and distribute their cargo to the victims.

The aid will be greatly appreciated to the Indonesians who have already had to endure great loss and suffering. The 9.0 earthquake that devastated many regions, which according to experts was the largest since 1964, erupted in the Indian Ocean about 100 miles west of Sumatra sending a massive wave directly into the country’s west coast. Costal areas on the northwest side of the island have completely vanished off the map.

Immediately after the huge waves hit hundreds of shorelines, scores of Indonesians were left homeless, in need of food and clean water and other basic supplies. The 15th MEU (SOC), which deployed from San Diego on Dec. 6, was in the Western Pacific when tsunami struck, and was soon after called upon to assist with humanitarian aid.

Despite all the devastation that lies so close to 15th MEU (SOC), the Marines and Sailors remain in high spirits and are anxious to help all the victims. “I am happy to be part of such a driven unit. Right now we are 100 percent focused and really making things happen,” said Maj. James Shore, the safety officer for the Aviation Combat Element.

With exact locations and procedures of the 15th MEU (SOC) still pending, the troops stay prepared for anything.


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