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Mobility Airmen deliver rapid response to aid Haiti

2/10/2010 - PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AFNS) -- Airmen and assets from Air Mobility Command quickly mobilized for the Haitian relief effort to establish the capability for sustained air mobility operations here.

A mere 13 hours after receiving the official tasking Airmen from the 621st Contingency Response Wing based at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., arrived at the Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport Jan. 14 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, just two days after the 7.0 earthquake devastated the island nation.

Within hours of arriving, Airmen began unloading aircraft and staging equipment and supplies for what would quickly become the key hub for U.S. and international humanitarian relief flowing into Haiti.

The 621st CRW Airmen quickly joined with the 688th Rapid Port Opening Element out of Fort Eustis, Va., to execute a Joint Task Force-Port Opening mission.

Designed to keep supplies and equipment from accumulating on the airfield, the Airmen worked with the RPOE to move supplies to a forward distribution node, known here as humanitarian relief village, where nongovernmental and relief organizations can pick up the supplies for distribution. This is the first time JTF-PO has been used in a real-world disaster operation.

"Missions like this are what we train for every day at home station," said Col. Patrick Hollrah, the JTF-PO air commander. "When events like this happen, we must be prepared to provide a rapid response. The Airmen and Soldiers here have been on their A-game since we arrived, and I couldn't be more proud of the things they've been able to accomplish."

Since the arrival of the 115-person 621st CRW team, Airmen have off-loaded more than 22 million pounds of relief supplies and equipment from 1,800 civilian and military aircraft. Additionally, the Airmen have worked closely with the State Department to evacuate more than 14,000 U.S. citizens back to the U.S., 800 of whom were orphans being united with their adoptive families.

"We've touched nearly every piece of relief that's left this airport," Colonel Hollrah said. "It's hard to see the direct impact on the Haitians when your entire mission is at the airport, but I have no doubt that the hard work of the men and women here helped to save lives."

In the early days of the relief effort, the airport was averaging more than 130 aircraft a day, compared to a pre-disaster average of 25. While combat controllers from Air Force Special Operations Command provided initial air traffic control, AMC mobilized controllers from the 260th Air Traffic Control Squadron of the New Hampshire Air National Guard and the 245th Air Traffic Control Squadron from the South Carolina Air National Guard arrived to help control the airspace out of a mobile control tower deployed by Federal Aviation Administration officials.

The controllers arrived Jan. 23, and have a dual role here. Their first role is as air traffic controllers for the airport. Their second role is to train the local Haitians and ensure they are comfortable taking over operations out of the new mobile tower. The plan is for the local controllers to observe for two weeks and then they will control traffic for two weeks while the Air Force controllers observe and provide any needed assistance.

"Our goal is to train them and monitor them until they can take over flight operations and handle the volume of traffic," said Chief Master Sgt. Tim Sowder, a 260th ATCS air traffic controller.

They are setting up the control tower the way the Haitians would like the equipment to be turned over, so they will be seeking continuous input from the Haitians throughout the training and turnover process, Chief Sowder said.

AMC officials also deployed a medical team to help care for men and women injured during the earthquake. A team from MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., arrived at Port-au-Prince Jan. 21 to set up a mobile aeromedical staging facility to prepare patients for medical air evacuation to treatment facilities in the United States.

The 13-person, completely self-sustaining, mobile aeromedical staging facility includes medical technicians, nurses and support staff. Once the team arrived, they were fully mission capable within two and a half hours and had six patients prepped and ready for transport on a 10 p.m. flight to a medical treatment facility in Florida.

The staging facility can process 40 people a day and everyone on the team is ready for the mission, said Tech. Sgt. Ryan Wheatley, the mobile aeromedical staging facility NCO in charge.

"Everybody realizes their importance of being here and the service they provide," said Maj. Christopher Joseph, the mobile aeromedical staging facility commander.

Since the mobile aeromedical staging facility team arrived, they have helped to aeromedically evacuate more than 155 Haitians and Americans back to the U.S. for medical treatment.

AMC officials have flown 300 arrivals into Haiti, moved more than 7,000 tons of cargo into the country and deployed 800 active-duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve members in support of Operation Unified Response.

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