Contingency Response Airmen return home after Haiti relief operations

By Capt. Dustin Doyle | 621st Contingency Response Wing Public Affairs | March 1, 2010

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. — With the eyes of the world on Haiti after the small island nation was rocked by a 7.0 earthquake, Airmen from the 621st Contingency Response Wing here quickly mobilized for the relief effort just hours after the call for assistance went out.

The Airmen returned home after their 35-day deployment last Saturday, Feb. 20.

Thirteen hours after receiving the official tasking, the 120-Airmen Contingency Response Group arrived at the Port-Au-Prince International Airport in Haiti on Jan. 14. With the airport's infrastructure badly damaged and the seaport destroyed, the CRG was called upon to establish the capability for sustained air mobility operations. Within minutes of arriving in Haiti, Contingency Response 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.

Pre-earthquake, the airport handled a steady rate of approximately 15 to 20 flights a day. At the height of humanitarian response operations, the CRG was receiving and downloading more than 150 aircraft a day at an airport with a single runway and parking ramp that can accommodate only 10 aircraft.

"We touched nearly every piece of relief that left the airport," said Col. Patrick "Hoot" Hollrah, commander of the 817th Contingency Response GroupĀ  and Joint Task Force -Port Opening air commander. "It was hard to see the direct impact on the Haitians because our entire mission was at the airport, but I have no doubt that the hard work of the men and women helped to save lives."

Throughout the deployment, the CRG was responsible for downloading more than 30 million pounds of relief supplies and equipment. Additionally, the Airmen worked closely with the State Department to repatriate more than 15,000 U.S. citizens, 800 of which were orphans being united with their adoptive families.

"During a recent 60-day deployment to Afghanistan, we moved around 80 million pounds of cargo with 115 aerial porters. That's a lot of weight," said Master Sgt. Shannon Koenigstein, the aerial port lead for the 817th Contingency Response Group. "In our first 10 days on the ground in Haiti, we had already moved more than 12 million pounds of cargo with 20 porters. The initial pace of operations [in Haiti] was blazing."

In addition to airfield operations, the CRG joined with the 688th Rapid Port Opening Element out of Fort Eustis, Va., to execute a JTF-PO mission. Designed to keep supplies and equipment from accumulating and being stuck on the airfield, the CRG worked with the RPOE to move supplies to a forward distribution node - known in Haiti as "Humanitarian Relief Village" - where non-governmental and relief organizations could pick up the supplies for distribution. This was the first time JTF-PO had been used in a real-world disaster operation.

"Missions like this are what we train for every day at home station," said Colonel Hollrah. "When events like this happen, we must be prepared to provide a rapid response. The Airmen and Soldiers were on their A-game throughout the entire operation, and I couldn't be more proud of the things they've been able to accomplish."