News>Contingency response 'Mobility Masters' return from Pakistan relief mission
Story at a Glance
The 37 Airmen from the 621st CRW were deployed for 90 days to Chaklala AFB, Pakistan. The contingency response element was responsible for the movement of more than 20 million pounds of relief aid. At its peak, the flood waters covered one-fifth of the nation and killed more than 2000 Pakistanis
A C-130 Hercules is positioned to unload humanitarian aid supplies Oct. 3, 2010, at Skardu Airfield, Pakistan. U.S. military aircrews, working in close coordination with the Pakistan military, have transported more than 6.6 million kilograms of relief supplies and evacuated 21,000 people in the flood-affected regions of Pakistan during August and September. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. Andy Kin)
Two members of the 621st Contingency Response Element wait with forklifts for the arrival of another aid aircraft. The CRE team was responsible for palletizing and loading more than 20 million pounds of cargo for the people of Pakistan after devastating floods left millions homeless and killed more than 2,000. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Lt. Col. Shawn Underwood)
by Tech. Sgt. Parker Gyokeres
621st Contingency Response Wing Public Affairs
12/1/2010 - JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- The 621st Contingency Response Wing has completed its operations in Pakistan in support of flood relief distribution efforts after torrential rains and flooding affected more than 20 million people and left one-fifth of the agricultural country under water.
The last seven members of the 37 member team from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. returned home Nov. 24 after nearly 90 days at Chaklala Air Force Base. The team in Pakistan was relieved by a team of specialists from various Air Mobility Command bases. This new group will continue to assist the Pakistani government and international aid agencies with aid distribution support.
The Devil Raiders arrived Aug. 28 at the request of the Pakistanis and the U.S. State Dept. to assist Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority -- Pakistan's equivalent to the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Lt. Col. Shawn Underwood, 621st Contingency Response Element commander.
Heavy monsoons deluged northern Pakistan in July 2010 with over 26 inches of rain, precipitating one of the worst floods in Pakistan's history. At its height, the flood waters submerged the better part of an area equivalent to a length of the eastern seaboard of the United States stretching from Maine to Georgia. Unlike an ocean tsunami, this wave moved slowly, finally cresting in southern Pakistan in late September. The flood left nearly 2,000 dead.
"The Airmen of the 621st assisted with the pallet buildup and distribution of more than 20 million pounds of international relief supplies," said Underwood. "In addition to building pallets of food and shelters for distribution to flood victims, we also processed the arrival of helicopters and support equipment for the U.S. Army's 16th Combat Aviation Brigade and the 15th and 26th Marine Expeditionary Units."
After being offloaded from larger C-17 airlifters by the Mobility Airmen of the 621st, these helicopters were then moved further downrange to deliver critical supplies and evacuate flood-displaced Pakistanis.
At one point in the relief effort, there were so many deliveries leaving the main staging airfield at Chaklala that the distribution network began to run out of cargo pallets and the nets that restrain the cargo to them, explained the CRE commander.
"We formed small three-man teams to head forward to the main distribution destinations to locate, inspect and stack pallets so they could be flown back to Chaklala and reused," said Underwood. "We quickly discovered that without the proper equipment to move pallets at the delivery sites, they were being bent and damaged faster than we could get them replaced. It became a constant search and recovery effort to keep enough pallets and nets in the pipeline to move all the cargo. There were times when we had only a few pallets left, but we never ran out."
As the flood waters moved south and areas in the north became accessible, the focus of relief and rescue efforts shifted constantly. One key destination for aid relief was a central reception point in the northern Kashmir region on the airfield at Skardu. This long runway was set in a valley on the edge of the Himalayas. The opening of some roads made this airfield an excellent hub for the United Nation World Food Program to distribute supplies to the region. After sending specialists to assess the airfield, the CRE deployed a 3-man team forward to support operations. Together with the Pakistani military they were able to offload three C-17 and three C-130 aircraft each day, resulting in the delivery more than two million pounds of aid in ten days.
Underwood would meet each morning and most afternoons with leaders of the Pakistani air force at Chaklala AFB to discuss the day's goals and obstacles. The meetings often covered more than the day's flying schedule.
"I would present the issues or goals of the day to Group Capt. Atique over a cup of hot tea and he would make a quick phone call to brief a subordinate, then turn to me and say; 'While we wait for that to be solved, let's talk about cricket,'" said Underwood. "The game of Cricket became a sort of metaphor for the deployment - It's a total team exercise, but it has much different rules and time scales. We were trying to learn and accomplish disaster response the Pakistani way, by their rules. Things were always evolving and sometimes the rules didn't make sense, but the clock was constantly ticking."
Their mutual efforts at communication paid off, he explained.
"Toward the end of our mission there, we were playing football with members of the Pakistani air force in the staging yard, and I now know there are six bowls per over," said the colonel, smiling. "We learned to work together and appreciate how the other team operates."
The team left with more than knowledge of foreign sport, said Maj. Christopher Lacek, 621 CRE director of operations. In addition to supervising aerial port operations at Chaklala, he was often a member of the deployed teams that handled issues downrange.
"The best part of the trip was being told 'thank you' by people you did not know, seeing people's faces light up when they saw you were from the United States, watching families board an American aircraft enroute to a more stable area of Pakistan," said Major Lacek. "It was worth it all to realize their opinion of America may have changed."