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15TH MEU (SOC) continues providing humanitarian aid to Indonesia

Marine Corps News

Story Identification #: 200511221636
Story by Gunnery Sgt. Robert Knoll

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (Jan. 12, 2005) -- As the Indonesia continues to make progress recovering from the recent disaster, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) is heavily involved the robust relief effort at Sultan Iskandar Muda Airbase here and along 150 miles of the Sumatra’s western coastline.

Immediately upon arriving to the waters near Indonesia, the MEU was tasked with providing a small contingent of Marines and Sailors with various operational and logistics specialties to the 3rd Marine Division operations cell to coordinate Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief for badly devastated regions of Indonesia’s island of Sumatra. The 3rd MarDiv has been designated the unit in charge of Marine operations in the area.

In addition to the liaison cell, the 15th MEU has also been airlifting supplies to dozen’s of small villages virtually wiped out by deadly tsunamis along the vast coastline. Many of these areas have been cut off from major supply hubs, forcing them to scrounge for food and clean water. Each day, the liaison cell’s officer in charge, Capt. Jose Menjivar, meets with 3rd Marine Division staff members and Indonesia officials to determine what kind of support needs to be provided by MEU cargo helicopters.

Since the 15th MEU has not brought ground forces ashore yet, they have been focusing on providing logistical support to Indonesia. So far, most of the missions have been to provide transportation of critical supplies like food, water and medical supplies, according to Gunnery Sgt. Suruj Jeetan, 32, a logistics chief and native of Brooklyn, N.Y.

He and fellow Marines primary mission is to facilitate the movement of humanitarian aid to devastated locations assigned to the 15th MEU. “I’m basically filling a gap as a log chief,” he said about his role there. He has also been assisting other humanitarian organizations such as Red Cross receive and redistribute supplies as they arrive at the airfield.

Each day, many fully loaded C-130 cargo aircraft arrive from a host nations filled with aid. One right after another, aircraft from the United States, Sri Lanka, Australia, Pakistan and other nations continue to roll down the crowded runway full of supplies. Jeetan and his Marines help unload and break down large pallets into smaller loads easier to transport aboard helicopters.

Jeetan said the main supplies being received are biscuit, which is a form of bread, rice, water and milk. Those supplies, in addition to medicines, blankets, clothing and ethnic foods are some of the most requested items currently.

“The infrastructure’s slowly getting better here in Banda Aceh,” Jeetan said. Since arriving Jan. 5, more organizations have joined the effort further expanding the humanitarian capabilities of the site. U.S. Navy H-60 Seahawks from the USS Abraham Lincoln are flying non-stop sorties of food and aid to remote locations all over Sumatra.

Part of that infrastructure has been the reliability of 15th MEU aviation, according to Jeetan. The 15th MEU has been transporting hundreds of thousands of supplies to Meulaboh and other towns and villages along the coast. The MEU’s Aviation Combat Element is also working with Spanish Red Cross representatives to transport five Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Units or ROWPUs. The machines are able to treat nearly any water source and turn it into clean water.

The ROWPUs are mounted on standard trailers and because of damages to the roads, they have to be lifted by helicopter. The challenge is lifting them because there are no “sling points” mounted on the trailer, according to Staff Sgt. Daniel Fowler, 29, helicopter suspension team chief with MEU Service Support Group 15. “It’s going to be innovative,” he said about the daunting task. He added that he might have to remove the device from the trailer to transport it.

Fowler carefully examined and measured the devices to form a safe and effective plan for lifting the device. He said that its civilian-style construction makes it difficult to hook up to military lifting equipment but he was confident that he and his Marines be able to accomplish the task.

Although missions like moving civilian equipment are not unusual to the Marines and Sailors, some admit that it is a different mission than they were expecting. “We’re here so we might as well help out,” said Cpl. Daniel Seaney, 21, an infantryman with C Co and a native of Globe, Ariz. Seaney, like many of his fellow Marines have their minds on Iraq so this humanitarian mission came at a bit of surprise. But when he heard about the tragic events he was hoping he would have a chance to help out.

Corporal Daniel Dopp, 23, also with C Co, and a native of Dallas, looked at his contributions as a good way to get off the ship. “Morale is still real high, and we’re doing a lot of [physical training] and classes to get ready for Iraq,” he said about the 15th MEU’s possible next assignment. “It’s our job to do whatever it takes.” The 15th MEU (SOC) is continuing to work closely with the staff of the 3d Marine Division and the Indonesian government to expand the scope of humanitarian assistance in the nation.


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