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15th MEU focuses HA efforts on Meulaboh

Marine Corps News

Story Identification #: 200511622515
Story by Lance Cpl. Scott L. Eberle

MEULABOH, Indonesia (Jan. 16, 2005) -- The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) recently started focusing its humanitarian aid effort in Indonesia during Operation Unified Assistance by delivering tons of supplies to a local hospital and refugee camp here.

For the last week and a half, two Landing Craft Air Cushioned or LCACs depart the USS Bonhomme Richard each morning and head ashore filled with critical supplies and the equipment necessary to distribute it throughout the nearly devastated city.

While LCACs hover out of the ship’s well deck, helicopters filled with Marines and Sailors also take off from the BHR headed to Meulaboh. The helos are set to distribute supplies while Navy Corpsmen on board provide medical aid at the local hospital.

The helos touch down about 15 minutes later and radio operators immediately establish communications with the ship and the incoming LCAC as everyone else heads to the beach to clear a spot for the LCACs. The first LCAC hits the beach around 8 a.m. loaded with a fork lift, two seven-ton trucks, and some pallets of water for a local refugee camp.

Once the vehicles and supplies and were unloaded, a small convoy left the beach and headed across town to deliver water to the refugee camp. Corpsman on the same convoy headed to the hospital to offer their assistance. Many of the locals greeted the Marines and Sailors with friendly waves and smiles as they made their way into town with aid supplies.

For some of the service members, the destruction in the city was a real eye-opener. “I was really unaware of the damage that a tsunami could cause,” said Cpl. Mathew R. Rank, the Maritime Special Purpose Force communicator. “You just can’t come to understand the amount of destruction until you see it first hand.”

As the convoy arrived at the shelter, local residents gathered around as the Marines began to unload crates of fresh water for the tsunami victims. Although the shelter survived the massive waves, many nearby buildings suffered significant damage. Two-story high piles of concrete, wood, building materials and household goods littered the landscape around the mosque that was being used as the shelter. Construction crews slowly removed debris from the tops of piles trying to start the rebuilding process, which could take a long time.

The Corpsmen and Dental Technicians were driven to the local hospital as Marines unloaded the supplies at the refugee camp. “Many of the medical cases coming in are psychological,” according to Dental Technician 3rd Class Romell Richardson. “We had one child come in who has hardly had any sleep since the tsunami. He saw his entire family get swept away in the wave and has been having nightmares about it ever since.”

With everything under control at the hospital, the corpsmen and dental technicians made their way back to the beach. “The people here have really welcomed us with open arms,” said Richardson. “It’s almost unreal as we drive down the street and numerous civilians are waving to us yelling “Semper Fi” and giving us the thumbs up. Some of the native medical personnel have even opened the doors of their homes to us offering to cook us dinner.”

The convoy left the refugee camp with some friendly waves from the locals. Driving down the streets, the Marines and Sailors drove by countless people digging through piles of rubble that used to be their homes, trying to piece their lives back together. At one point a lady was sweeping off her sidewalk while officials carried another body out of the building next to her.

“You can see tons of pictures on TV but you just don’t realize how devastating the tsunami really was until you’re actually there,” said Cpl. Mathew R. Loper, a radio operator with the 15th MEU (SOC).

After all the supplies had been unloaded from the LCACs and distributed, more humanitarian supplies were flown in by helicopter. Marine helicopters transported French supplies from another location to Meulaboh. Many surface roads and bridges in and out of the city have been badly damaged making it difficult to transport supplies.

“I never expected the damage to be this bad. I had no idea that the damage reached as far inland as it did,” said Rank. “I spoke with one of the local civilians and he told me he lost nine of his relatives in the tragedy.”

Shortly after the first helicopter touched down, Marines, Sailors, Singaporean soldiers and French emergency service workers teamed up to unload a the first CH-53E Super Stallion filled with supplies like crates of fresh bottled water, tents, and other humanitarian aid supplies. As soon as the helicopter was unloaded, it cleared the landing zone for another aircraft with more supplies.

The aid was sorted and loaded into another vehicle so the French workers could transport them to another affected site.

After the second helicopter had been emptied, most of the Marines and Sailors adorned float coats and cranials before loading up into the CH-53E to make their flight back to ship for the night. The Indonesian government has requested Marines and Sailors return to the ship everyday.

“I’m just glad we are doing something to help,” said Cpl. Kelly J. Getz, a navigational aids technician with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 165 (REIN). “It’s still going to take a while for all the damages to be repaired, but whatever help we can give them, they can definitely use.”

“I felt more pride handing out food and water to all the victims than I ever have before,” said Rank. “All that we are doing here makes me very proud to be a Marine.”

The 15th MEU (SOC) was one of the first U.S. military units in the area and has been providing humanitarian assistance for almost two weeks.


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