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Robert Love from FEMA loads bottled water ONTO a truck at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.

Robert Love from FEMA loads bottled water ONTO a truck at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. (Jason Carter / S&S)

Robert Love from FEMA loads bottled water ONTO a truck at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.

Robert Love from FEMA loads bottled water ONTO a truck at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. (Jason Carter / S&S)

Maj. Robert Gibson, the 36th Logistics Readiness Squadron's commander.

Maj. Robert Gibson, the 36th Logistics Readiness Squadron's commander. (Jason Carter / S&S)

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, GUAM — The runway on Guam hasn’t been this busy since the peak days of the war in Afghanistan.

But then, recovering from a typhoon can be like combat.

“I compare the last couple of days to Enduring Freedom,” Maj. Robert Gibson, commander of the 36th Logistics Readiness Squadron, said Monday. “It’s not quite the number of troops, but cargo has been similar.”

In just 48 hours this week, 37 aircraft delivered relief supplies to Andersen for the island’s residents and U.S. military installations suffering the effects of Super Typhoon Pongsona.

On their cargo lists were more than 10,000 bottles of water, eight water buffaloes (large portable storage tanks), Meals Ready to Eat, tents, generators, dump trucks, hundreds of Red Cross kits with blankets, water, civilian MREs and water tankers.

The supplies sit in a hangar at the edge of the flight line. U.S. Forest Service workers drive forklifts. Federal emergency workers in blue caps check lists. Air Force civil engineers build wood pallets to keep the boxes off the ground.

Given that many of the supplies needed for Guam are from Federal Emergency Management Agency warehouses in the States, transportation is “very, very critical,” said Tony Robinson, FEMA’s logistics section chief.

FEMA, which is coordinating the relief effort, is using Andersen as its main distribution center on the island. Supplies are flown in from the States, sorted and moved to tractor-trailers for delivery.

Military planes are doing much of the muscle-work: Unlike commercial jets, military aircraft can carry heavy equipment such as forklifts and bulldozers, FEMA officials said.

Ten of the 37 aircraft were civilian planes contracted by the federal government, such as 747s; the others were military charter flights, Gibson said.

The Department of Transportation assigns the airlift missions for FEMA, Robinson said. If a plane is carrying supplies FEMA has requested, the Transportation Department pays for fuel, overtime and travel costs for crewmembers and federal employees, he said. The Defense Department covers costs for supplies flown in for the bases, he said.

Andersen’s runway was operational a day after Pongsona left the island. Planes are landing 24 hours a day; lights on the flight-line are powered by batteries and generators. One challenge, though, has been the long turn-around time posed by geography.

“If you want a bottle of water, you need to give us a 72-hour lead time,” said Mike Karl, FEMA deputy federal coordinating officer.

FEMA officials did not have an estimate on relief effort costs, but they said supplies are expected to pour in for “a couple of months.”

“This is a very catastrophic disaster,” Karl said. “We get maybe a handful of catastrophic disasters in a career.”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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