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Operation Mountain Relief

After battling weather and time for almost a week, a small group of American soldiers helped feed three isolated mountain villages near Kukes in eastern Albania for over three days in January. When a major snowstorm hit the region, the Albanian government asked the American government for humanitarian relief for these stranded villagers. Three mountain villages in eastern Albania were snowed-in with a dwindling food supply and with no chance of getting help until spring. The US government responded with a food staples assistance operation dubbed "Operation Mountain Relief."

The 10th Logistical Task Force (10th Mountain Division), Fort Drum, NY, and the 101st Aviation Regiment, (101st Airborne Division), Fort Campbell, KY. provided the men and equipment for the operation. A small contingent of artillerymen from 3rd Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, provided security on the Landing Zones.

After waiting until midday both Jan. 19 and 20, the mission was scrubbed due to heavy fog. Monday, Jan. 21, was different when the heavy fog that has socked the area in recently burned off early. The two CH-47 Chinooks and one UH-60 Black Hawk from the 101st Aviation were quickly loaded with equipment and soldiers, and took off for this small Albanian army compound. Because the sun sets early this time of year, they only had a couple of hours of daylight to work with each day.

The small force of US soldiers went to work. The helicopters were unloaded, six cargo nets rolled out, and small Albanian army trucks loaded with 110-pounds of flour drove onto the airfield. Albanian soldiers helped the Americans stack a total of 13 tons of flour for the village of Arren that day. After that the Chinooks and Black Hawk took off, and a sling-load crew hooked them with their swinging cargo. The Black Hawk would act as an observation and control helicopter for the two much larger Chinooks during the three missions.

Wednesday was no different with fog grounding the flight from Camp Bondsteel to here until midday. The mission took for the compound and went to work loading up seven tons of flour for the small village of Lekbibaj. Three nets of flour were pre-stacked and readied for the next day. Nearly seven tons of food would be delivered to the village of Margegaj. The next day, Thursday, would prove to be the last day of the mission. The fog burned off early and the loaded helicopters took off for here. Once on the ground the sling loading of the two Chinooks took just a few minutes due to the load's preparation and the LZ was quiet again as the two birds raced toward their objective.



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