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Air Force continues earthquake support

by 1st Lt Erick Saks
818th Contingency Response Group Public Affairs

10/19/2005 - ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AFPN) -- As the United States enters its second week of humanitarian operations here, Airmen from all over the world continue working to deliver thousands of pounds of humanitarian cargo a day.

In the second week following the earthquake in Pakistan, the group handled almost 700 tons of cargo intended for humanitarian relief, said Capt. Christopher Simmons, 818th Contingency Response Group operations officer.

"This is really an amazing operation," said Tech. Sgt. Shawn Boyd, a group communication specialist. "I have never seen anything like this in my 17 years in the Air Force. There are so many countries involved, and the Pakistani people have been so grateful that we're here. A lot of them have come up to thank me and thank America."

Humanitarian distribution operations were limited at the onset of the operation because U.S. aid was being distributed by just eight Army helicopters, said Col. Richard Walberg, the group commander. However, as the operation evolved, the CRG has found more avenues to get materials out.

"Task Force Griffin is expanding operations to include a total of 24 helos. We're also sending the aid by airdrops and Pakistani distribution trucks now," Colonel Walberg said.

"It's been frustrating at times since we have a lot of aid here that still needs to get out, but we are working the issues and are making good progress," the colonel said.

The colonel -- who arrived in Pakistan less than a week after returning from Hurricane Katrina relief -- said if he must put on his desert camouflaged uniform, humanitarian support is his preferred reason to wear it.

"I have two options when I put on this uniform," he said. "I can go to war, or I can go help people. I'll take the second option any day of the week."

Operating from Chaklala Air Base, group Airmen are responsible for the movement of U.S. humanitarian aid being sent into the country. However, the CRG has also provided assistance to several other countries, Colonel Walberg said.

U.S. forces also partnered with an Iranian aircrew to deliver aid to the Pakistani people.

"An Iranian IL-76 (cargo aircraft) arrived at the base with a field hospital, but no way to unload it," Colonel Walberg said. "They asked if we could lend them a hand. Of course, we helped them out. In an operation like this, we have to put other issues aside and focus on the mission at hand -- helping the Pakistani people.

The group has also worked closely with German, Japanese, Swiss, Afghani and representatives from other nations.

"Each night, Air Force cargo planes carry thousands of pounds of humanitarian aid to the base, and each day the aid is distributed throughout the country," Captain Simmons said.

Airmen continue working around the clock to make sure supplies are getting out to the people who need them, he said.

Despite the long hours, group members are in good spirits, Sergeant Boyd said.

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