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Homeland Security

American Forces Press Service

Navy Ship Provides First Response to American Samoa

By Christen N. McCluney
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 9, 2009 – The USS Ingraham was one of the first responders to provide humanitarian relief to victims of a natural disaster in American Samoa, the ship’s commanding officer said.

The U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean was hit by an earthquake-caused tsunami Sept. 29. Navy Cmdr. Matthew Ovios explained how his ship’s crew assisted with rescue efforts and humanitarian relief during a “DoDLive” bloggers roundtable Oct. 7.

The Ingraham was deployed in the western Pacific Ocean and heading to American Samoa for a regular port visit when the crew was notified of a tsunami warning. The crew was directed to increase the ship’s speed to arrive earlier in American Samoa.

When the ship arrived in port, Ovios said the crew immediately began conducting aerial assessments, clearing debris and offering other types of assistance.

Because the naval presence arrived so quickly, humanitarian efforts were able to begin almost immediately, he noted.

"There wasn't a helicopter there on American Samoa, so combined with the Coast Guard 130 doing both the aerial surveillance and members of [Federal Emergency Management Agency] ... we used all of our available manpower and we just started clearing debris for three consecutive days," he explained. "We had anywhere from 120 sailors out just clearing debris and that made a huge impact."

The island was not completely devastated, Ovios said. "There were areas that were completely business as usual, intact, while other areas [were] completely devastated."

The Ingraham was an initial responder, Ovios said, noting “We have been released from that mission now."

"This was an incredibly rewarding mission for my crew," Ovios said. "You know it's something that we talk about, something that perhaps we don't necessarily train for, but we're there to do."

He noted it was a rewarding experience for everyone on board to work for the Joint Task Force for Homeland Defense, which included elements of the Coast Guard, Army National Guard, Air Force and Navy.

“It was a good experience for us to work together, to come together so quickly and to be able to offer some help," Ovios said.

(Christen N. McCluney works in the Defense Media Activity’s emerging media directorate.)

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