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Deployed troops send relief to Southeast Asia survivors

by Capt. Mae-Li Allison
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

1/10/2005 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN)  -- Deployed troops at a forward-deployed location here combined forces to send relief items to victims of the tsunamis that swept through Southeast Asia on Dec. 26.

Several base agencies worked hand-in-hand with host-nation organizations to provide much-needed clothes, sanitation items and food to Sri Lanka. These efforts will probably lead to lasting programs that will continue to support people in need even after the coordinators of these programs leave, officials said.

"This (project) turned out to be a lot bigger than what I had thought," said Miguel Laboy, a base communications contractor whose daughter was in Thailand when the tsunamis hit.

Realizing that deployed Airmen were interested in donating to the countries in need, not to mention lightening their baggage before returning home, Mr. Laboy said he had originally teamed up with a local church to provide clothes to people in the Philippines who were plagued by flooding about a month ago. But after hearing of the tsunamis that devastated areas across the Indian Ocean, he shifted his focus to helping those particular victims.

"My first thought was to make sure my daughter was OK," he said. "And when I found out she was, I called the Sri Lankan Embassy here to find ways I could help."

Working with embassy officials, Mr. Laboy said he has been able to arrange for needed items to be flown free of charge by a commercial Sri Lankan airline company. And by word of mouth, the seemingly small project he began at one base has grown into a joint effort between two air bases and an Army post, all located in Southwest Asia.

"So far, we've got enough clothing, food and sanitation items to help out about a hundred people, and the donations keep coming in," said Mr. Laboy, who is also a retired Army sergeant major.

Another base organization that has also helped gather relief supplies for Sri Lanka is the base chapel.

"We have a good relationship with churches located downtown," said Chaplain (Capt.) David Mansberger, who is deployed from Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. "One of them was flying a plane (to) Sri Lanka about two days after the tsunamis hit and invited us to donate to the effort."

Although there was not much time to gather clothing and supplies for the effort, Chaplain Mansberger said they gathered about four large boxes of clothes.

"The spirit of volunteerism and giving donations is alive and well on this base," he said.

Chaplain Mansberger said this giving spirit might contribute to making this a lasting project.

"When working with the church (downtown), we also found that some third-country nationals (locally) were in need of clothes and supplies, too," he said. "So, we're working toward collecting enough items to make donations once a month or every other week."

Although Mr. Laboy's efforts were specifically aimed toward helping the people of Sri Lanka, he said he knows recovery efforts will take quite some time.

"Even after I leave, I hope somebody else on base will take up the responsibility of collecting items to continue donating to those countries that need it," he said.

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