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Military, Civilian Teamwork Makes Increased Air Operations Possible at Guantanamo

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS100129-21
Release Date: 1/29/2010 5:55:00 PM

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Leona Mynes, Naval Station Guantanamo Bay Public Affairs

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (NNS) -- Before the 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti Jan. 12, Naval Station (NAVSTA) Guantanamo Bay (GTMO), Cuba, air operations department was responsible for overseeing less than 10 flights per day at its leeward airfield.

Some flights included C-12 Huron aircraft flown by naval aviators, small U.S. Coast Guard aircraft and helicopters, small private passenger planes and Air Mobility Command contracted Boeing 727-passenger airplanes that carried up to 150 personnel to and from the island.

"Once the earthquake hit, we ramped up [operations] big time," said Chief Electronics Technician Ray Hammonds, air operations department leading chief petty officer. "Initially, it was with MEDEVAC (medical evacuation) flights. Then squadrons started showing up. Now we're running C-130s (Hercules), C-2s (Greyhounds), E-2s (Hawkeyes), C-17s (Globemaster III), C-5s (Galaxies) and (Boeing) 747s in and out of GTMO on a daily basis."

At first, the task seemed overwhelming for the small airfield and coordination efforts between civilians and military became essential to mission success.

"The first four or five days were extremely busy," said Hammonds. "I've done everything from helping get victims out of here to unloading supplies."

Hammonds said logistical support with Guantanamo's limited resources was air operations' biggest challenge. Squadrons and planes needed support like lodging, transportation, food and work spaces. The air terminal team and the air operations department worked together to ensure the increased numbers of personnel and cargo were properly accommodated.

"The first few days, handling all those aspects of the operation were the most daunting," said Hammonds. "If we didn't have an answer, we knew where to get the answer. All in all, it was just making things happen."

Hammonds said air operations department personnel worked with the five U.S. civilian contractors and 21 foreign nationals of the air terminal staff to create one team whose goal was to smoothly expedite materials and personnel.

"We work hand-in-hand with the Navy to coordinate the movements of all passengers and cargo to and from GTMO," said Mark Veditz, the air operations project manager for the naval station. "The Navy has done a great job of working with us by supplying the personnel and equipment needed to make this successful."

Veditz has worked for the naval station's air terminal for more than 12 years.

"After Sept. 11, GTMO ramped up like this," said Veditz. "There was a big influx of personnel bringing supplies, and we were responsible for getting them right back out. [Because of Sept. 11,] we already knew what we could accomplish."

The air terminal offered its spaces for cargo and personnel awaiting transport to ships in theater or to earthquake-devastated Haiti.

Veditz credited Air Terminal Manager Drew Lasseter and Air Traffic Control Facilities Officer Pam Gardner with making the air terminal's role in Operation Unified Response a success.

"From parking planes to scheduling landings and take-offs, they made it work," Veditz said.

The direction Operation Unified Response will take over the next few weeks is unknown, but Veditz said the air terminal is standing by to provide all the support they can.

The U.S. Southern Command designated Guantanamo Bay as the hub for logistical support for Operation Unified Response because of its location, infrastructure and facilities. The naval station provides a forward air and sea logistical receiving, processing and staging area.

"This is a tragic thing that happened in Haiti," said Hammonds. "But this is a real world operation as opposed to training … so this is what we're supposed to do. I get a great deal of pleasure out of trying to help the people [in Haiti], and I know air operations folks do too."



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