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Hillclimbers go in search of 'H' in Pakistan

CHAKLALA, Pakistan (Army News Service, Nov. 22, 2005) -- In addition to delivering relief supplies to remote Pakistan villages and towns, the mission of the 25th Infantry Division “Hillclimbers” includes evacuating casualties, and transporting displaced persons to camps where they will be better equipped to survive the harsh winter weather as it approaches.

Pilots leave Chaklala flight line at Quasim Airbase with a helicopter full of supplies and an approximate grid coordinate for their delivery destination from the Operations Center. Once in the air, they look for landing zones marked with a large, white letter "H." However, many of the landing zones marked with an "H" are not official and have been made by desperate people in desperate need of supplies.

Capt. Michael Sines, a pilot and the commander of Company B, 2nd Battalion, 14th Aviation Regiment, has flown relief missions almost every day since he arrived in Pakistan.

"Being a pilot, up front, we don't really get a chance to be a part of everything that goes on when we land,” said Sines. “It's the crewmembers who really get to get up close and personal with the people we're helping. It's still a great feeling you get at the end of the day, though, knowing what we're accomplishing over here.”

Hillclimbers saving lives

Acting first sergeant for the Hillclimbers, Sgt. 1st Class Steven Wyllie, wants to make sure all his Soldiers get a chance to experience every aspect of the mission.

"From the mechanics who work at night when the birds land -- to make sure they can fly the next day -- to the commo [communications] specialists who work all day at base camp, everyone plays a vital role here," he said. "I think people will get worn out if they stay at Quasim and don't get a chance to see the human side of the mission here."

After being "on the ground" in Pakistan, one Soldier’s words mirrored exactly what life was like for the pilots and crewmembers of the who were delivering relief supplies to victims of Pakistan's deadly Oct. 8 earthquake.

“Everything that you do over there, you're either saving someone's life, feeding children or making someone warm; that's the mindset you have to have," said the Combined Joint Task Force 76, Task Force Griffin, Command Sgt. Maj. Hector Marin as he spoke to a group of Soldiers from Hawaii, Kansas and Texas while they were staging in Bagram, Afghanistan.

5 tons of relief in 10 minutes

The 60-person team of Hillclimbers has become a part of the larger Task Force Quake, which is comprised of Soldiers from U.S. Army units in Hawaii, Kansas and Texas. Joining them are European Chinook counterparts from the British Army and the Royal Air Force hailing from Great Britain.

An amazing flurry of organized chaos takes place when the Hillclimbers come into view at each landing zone. For the most part, the American helicopters, which are marked by an American flag on either side, only land where there are Pakistani military soldiers already on the ground.

The "Pak Mil," as they are affectionately called by U.S. Soldiers, is playing a huge role in maintaining civil crowd control, so that approaching relief helicopters are not mobbed. As the crews and Pak Mil unload more than 10,000 pounds of relief supplies in less than 10 minutes, crowds of locals slowly emerge to watch with engrossed eyes. Tents, rice, sugar, blankets, and sometimes even baby food are unloaded.

One Pakistani man gave excited praise through his broken English for his family’s rescue by the Hillclimbers.

"Thank you, thank you, America, yes, thank you," he said as he shook hands with American Soldiers.

(Editor’s note: Spc. Mary Simms serves with 25th ID & USARHAW PAO.)

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