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U.S. Military Forces Wrap up Hurricane Felix Relief Efforts

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS070923-02
Release Date: 9/23/2007 11:16:00 AM

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Wimbish, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command Public Affairs

MIAMI (NNS) -- U.S. military forces have wrapped up support to the Hurricane Felix disaster relief effort in Nicaragua after airlifting more than 490,000 pounds of aid to those in need, an operation that was heavily supported by two U.S. Navy ships.

The last forces to support the mission, a 24-person team from the Honduras-based Joint Task Force Bravo, departed from Puerto Cabezas on Sept. 18, ending nearly two weeks of U.S. Southern Command directed operations to deliver much needed supplies to areas on the northeast coast of Nicaragua ravaged by the Sept. 4 category five storm.

U.S. Navy helicopters from USS Wasp (LHD 1) and USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) played a major role in the first week of the disaster relief mission, airlifting more than 125,000 pounds of relief supplies and medically evacuating 34 people during the initial, hectic days after the storm.

"It was our privilege to provide help to the Nicaraguan people in the aftermath of Hurricane Felix. This was truly a joint and interagency effort involving all the armed services and State Department," said Joint Task Force-Bravo Commander, Army Col. Marcus DeOliveira, who commanded the U.S. military relief efforts.

"We were part of a larger team of partners from the Americas that included Honduras, Venezuela, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Brazil. At one time aircraft and people from all these countries, plus Spain, stood shoulder to shoulder with Nicaraguans in Puerto Cabezas. It was truly a demonstration of the close linkages among the people of the Americas coming to aid a partner nation," DeOliveira said.

U.S. military support to Hurricane Felix relief efforts began Sept. 5, following a request for help from the government of Nicaragua.

U.S. Southern Command, in coordination with the U.S. State Department and the lead federal agency for the effort, USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), directed the amphibious ship Wasp and a disaster relief assessment team from Joint Task Force-Bravo to Puerto Cabezas. At the time, Wasp was in the waters off Panama for the multinational Exercise, Fuerzas Aliadas (FA) PANAMAX 2007.

By the weekend of Sept. 7, U.S. military response was in full force. Helicopters embarked on Wasp and attached to Joint Task Force-Bravo, including CH-47 Chinooks, MH-53E Sea Dragon and SH-60 Seahawks, flew dozens of missions from a Puerto Cabezas airfield to deliver emergency relief supplies. Much of the aid, which included food, blankets, hygiene kits, water, and plastic sheeting used for shelter, were provided by OFDA. Helicopters also medically evacuated 10 people.

According to one Navy helicopter crew member, the first weekend of airlifting operations was furious and sometimes tricky.

"As soon as [residents] saw the water they started swarming forward," said Aviation Warfare Systems Operator 2nd Class Nathan Kelly, describing the scene of the first deliveries to desperate victims rushing for supplies.

"It was not only awesome, but pretty frightening. It was a crazy but educational experience because we learned how to deal with that kind of desperation and it definitely didn't happen again after that," said Kelly.

A U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules also transported 25,000 pounds of USAID aid from Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla., to Puerto Cabezas on Sept. 8.

On Sept. 9, the mission hit its second phase as Samuel B. Roberts and its two embarked SH-60 Seahawk helicopters took over from Wasp and the Joint Task Force-Bravo troops, which departed the area.

Through Sept. 13, the ship's two SH-60 Seahawks helicopters flew 41 sorties, transporting 45,000 pounds of aid and evacuating 24 people. Samuel B. Roberts, homeported in Mayport, Fla., was also previously involved in the multinational exercise FA PANAMAX 2007 in nearby Panama.

Samuel B. Roberts departed the area Sept. 13, after the final U.S. military team from Joint Task Force-Bravo began arriving.

The last Joint Task Force-Bravo team, which included two UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters, was in the country since Sept. 12 and flew 54 sorties, airlifting 110,000 pounds of aid and evacuating six people. Also on the final weekend, a Marine Corps KC-130 Hercules flew in nearly 93,000 pounds of supplies to Puerto Cabezas.

Any U.S. military assistance to a foreign nation must be requested by the host nation through the U.S. ambassador. Then, as the lead federal agent, OFDA fields the request and asks the Department of Defense for military assistance, if needed.

In the past two years, U.S. Southern Command has sent U.S. military forces to seven disaster relief missions in the region, including support to Guatemala and Nicaragua following Hurricane Stan in 2005.

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