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Naval Station Rota is expecting a huge increase in activity this week as the base in Spain serves as a transfer spot for U.S. military helicopters heading to South Asia to help in earthquake relief efforts.

The U.S. Army is sending 24 CH-47 Chinooks helicopters to the ravaged region. The helos are being flown from various bases in the United States on C-5 transporter airplanes to Rota, where they will be loaded onto C-17s for the journey east, said Air Force Col. Pat Savoy, commander of the 725th Air Mobility Squadron.

Operations at the base will be twice as busy as usual, said Air Force Maj. John Niakaros, a C-5 pilot and the flight command officer for the C-5 and C-17 staging operations at the base.

“[This weekend], we’re going to be recovering and launching more than 20 aircraft, and that’s well beyond the typical operations for here,” said Niakaros, referring to the landing and takeoff of aircraft. “We’re increasing operations by 100 percent.”

In response to the humanitarian mission, the number of airlift personnel at Rota was tripled to ensure safe round-the-clock operations, said Niakaros, who hails from the 22nd Airlift Squadron out of Travis Air Force Base, Calif. Citing security reasons, he declined to provide personnel numbers.

About 40,000 people died in the 7.6 magnitude earthquake that struck Pakistan, India and Afghanistan last Saturday morning.

The Chinooks will be used to ferry recovery personnel, food, water and medical supplies to various areas, many in Pakistan’s mountainous Himalayan region, Savoy said.

Despite the long work hours they are facing this weekend in Rota, crewmembers are gung-ho about the mission, Niakaros said.

“The crews might be stressed because of previous operations, but they are so willing to bend over backward to help out,” Niakaros said. “You can see it in their faces.”

The Air Force is transporting the helicopters on C-17s instead of C-5s because the C-17s are smaller, quicker and easier to land on smaller airfields in the region, said Air Force Maj. Ric Babcock, who is serving as the deployed detachment commander for the C-17 operations to the Pakistan region, but hails from the 8th Airlift Squadron at McChord Air Force Base in Washington.

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