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Altus sends six C-17s for Operation Unified Response

by Staff Sgt. Clinton Atkins
97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

1/20/2010 - ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. (AFNS) -- The 97th Air Mobility Wing launched six C-17 Globemaster IIIs from the 58th Airlift Squadron Jan. 17 and 18, here, to assist with the humanitarian relief effort in Haiti, Operation Unified Response.

Altus AFB officials answered the call for help with 50 aircrew personnel who will deliver aid in the form of medical evacuations and life sustaining supplies. Accompanying the aircrew are 13 C-17 maintainers to keep the aircraft readily available for the constant sorties it will take to provide relief to the island nation, which was ravage by an earthquake Jan. 12.

"(The aircrews) will conduct stage operations (out of Pope AFB, N.C.), which will allow Pope to manage our aircrews for us to basically provide 24/7 C-17 capability to help with the Haiti relief operation," said Col. John Oates, the 97th Operations Group commander. "At any point in time, we'll have crews sleeping on crew rest at Pope, we'll have crews flying into Haiti, and we'll have crews flying around the U.S. to gather equipment to get it to Haiti.

The future of the relief effort is uncertain and will most likely require the Air Force to adapt to changing needs in Haiti as the picture begins to unfold, Colonel Oates said. The personnel assigned to the mission currently have orders that make them available for two missions in the event they are extended.

"It might be a couple of days and they'll come home; it might be a couple of weeks and they'll need them longer," Colonel Oates said. "So every day that goes by we're going to learn a lot more about the situation on the ground in Haiti and what we need to do to get all of the relief supplies to all of the people there."

Altus AFB is home to some of the best C-17 maintainers and aircrew members in the Air Force and will do whatever they can to accomplish the mission, Colonel Oates said.

Before the mission orders came down from higher headquarters, 64 personnel were placed on standby with a vague sense of what was waiting for them. When the call came in they were eager to leap into action.

"Nobody really likes to be woken up in the middle of the night, but to have that happen and to see the positive attitude from a bunch of people trying to get the mission done speaks really well for our squadron," said Capt. Michael Pastuzyn, a 58th Airlift Squadron evaluator pilot. "I can't wait to get out there and start doing some good.

"To be able to provide (the earthquake victims) with even the littlest bit of help and comfort you can't put into words what that feels like," he said. "They don't have the basic necessities like water, medicine and food. It's easy for us to take off in an airplane to take stuff down there and the amount of impact of just one trip is immeasurable.

"It makes me feel great inside that America as a whole can provide that kind of relief effort, and to personally be involved in that is fantastic," the captain said.

As the last C-17 neared closer to its departure time, the enthusiasm of the aircrew members continued to grow. Senior Master Sgt. Mike Cumberland, the 58th AS superintendent, is one of them and he relished the chance to help those in need.

"I'm excited. To watch the devastation on TV and hear it on the radio is really incredible and to know that we're going to get an opportunity to help alleviate some of that is great," he said. "Anytime you see that kind of devastation and those people who really have their hands out and are in desperation and we have an opportunity to go in, I would rank it up there with any mission I have ever been on."

Many people believe reaching out to someone in need is an innate response everyone shares. The Air Force today is a prime example of that human instinct.

"There's no greater call," Colonel Oates said. "We have the chance to do something with the might of the military and the Air Force, and in this case the 97 AMW, that results in instant relief of mass suffering; that's as good as it gets."

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