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March C-17s make quick turn-around for more Haiti missions

by Megan Just
452 AMW Public Affairs

1/21/2010 - MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) -- Two C-17 Globemaster IIIs from the 729th Airlift Squadron returned to March Air Reserve Base Jan. 18 after flying earthquake relief missions to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. By mid-afternoon Jan. 18, Airmen from the 452nd Maintenance Group had regenerated the C-17s and new 729th AS crews were in the air for another cycle of Haiti missions.

Over the course of their initial mission, the two aircraft departed March ARB late in the evening of Jan. 14, making stops at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J.; Charleston AFB, S.C.; Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio; and Langley AFB, Va., to load disaster relief supplies and take crew rest between flights to Haiti.

"We were ready," said Senior Master Sgt. Esteban Rodriguez, senior loadmaster on one of the C-17s. "We were the first crew (from March Air Reserve Base) who were put on standby to go."

The two aircraft landed at the Toussaint L' Ouverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince Jan. 15, carrying loads of large equipment, including three generators and pickup trucks for Army troops.

"It was pretty hectic because aircraft from many nations were trying to land in Port-au-Prince," Sergeant Rodriguez said. "We all had to help out looking out the windows for other airplanes in the air."

Sergeant Rodriguez said that while the Jan. 15 landing felt a little like a free-for-all, by the time the aircraft landed there again Jan. 17, this time with an Army team of six, two White House representatives, flat bed trucks and forklifts, the landing system had been organized into time slots.

Even with a landing system established, Sergeant Rodriguez said there was limited space on the ramp and the aircraft were in close proximity. Knowing space was valuable pushed the air crew to minimize their time on the ramp.

"When we got on the ground, all the training that we go through just kicks in and you just want to load and offload the airplane as safely and as quickly as possible," Sergeant Rodriquez said.

On the last trip out of Haiti, Sergeant Rodriguez's aircraft carried 120 people to the Orlando Sanford International Airport in Florida where customs officials and ambulances were waiting. The language difference between the English-speaking aircrew and the Creole-speaking passengers proved not to be a problem, after Sergeant Rodriguez made a coincidental observation.

"I selected one of the passengers who I heard speaking English to her children (and asked her) to give the safety briefing in Creole," Sergeant Rodriguez said. After finishing the safety briefing to the other passengers over the PA system, the woman confessed to Sergeant Rodriguez that she used to be a flight attendant.

Sergeant Rodriguez said most of the people sitting on the sidewall seats had babies with them and the nearly two-hour flight remained quiet and the passengers seemed content.

Master Sgt. Dawn Price, a reservist with the 4th Combat Camera Squadron at March ARB, accompanied the C-17s on their mission to Haiti. Normally an officer with the California Highway Patrol in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., Sergeant Price was on the aircraft within six hours of the initial notification phone call.

"We wanted to get to Haiti and we wanted to help people," Sergeant Price said. "It felt good to be part of the military and to be able to make a difference."

Sergeant Price said she was not intimidated by the prospect of photographing the devastation in Haiti because, in her civilian job in the highway patrol, she is accustomed to responding to accident scenes.

"If you know what you have to do, it makes you so focused on your mission that you don't dwell on the things that might otherwise be disturbing," she said. "Afterwards, at home, is when you have to deal with that stuff."

Sergeant Rodriguez made a similar observation.

"You do your job just like you do every day and when you sit back and reflect of the impact you have toward the mission, it's rewarding to know that we can help in such a huge way with just five or six guys and an aircraft."

Sergeant Rodriguez said one of the things that most impacted him about the mission was at the airport in Haiti where he witnessed the cooperation between nations.

"There were so many different nationalities of people there on the ground, on the ramp area, all working for the same thing," he said. "It's amazing how even through all the language barriers, everything still function."

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