Hawaii GIs lending a hand to Pakistani quake victims
CHAKLALA AIR FIELD, Pakistan — After 45 minutes in the air over jagged mountains, Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Charles Russell eased his helicopter between two crests, slowly going down to the small valley village.
Most of the buildings lay in piles of rubble, resembling nothing of their former structure. The village is in ruins after last month’s 7.6-magnitude earthquake that killed about 80,000 people and left 3 million homeless.
“It’s unfortunate … they have to start all over,” Russell said. “There’s an incredible amount of devastation caused. It’s going to be a slow process.”
Russell, a CH-47 Chinook pilot with Company B, 214th Aviation Regiment out of Hawaii, and the rest of the soldiers from the company have been in Pakistan for several weeks, typically flying two to three missions a day.
On Sunday, one of their missions was flying supplies — mostly tents and rice — to the mountain village of Paras, along with a Navy MH-53 helicopter. Relief helicopters have been flying out of Chaklala Air Field, ferrying much-needed supplies to those who have been affected by the Oct. 8 earthquake.
A total of 24 U.S. military helicopters — 20 Army and four Navy — have flown 1,149 sorties, carrying more than 4.8 million pounds of cargo, according to a Nov. 6 Disaster Assistance Center Pakistan fact sheet. They also have carried more than 6,500 passengers, and 3,271 casualty evacuations.
Russell’s crew has carried hundreds of those displaced. He said they have five points where they can drop people off, but if they are injured, they fly them back to Chaklala Air Field in Islamabad, where medical treatment is available.
Russell said it’s a “really good feeling” to be able to help the Pakistani people, and those being helped have been very receptive. While the United States as a whole may not have been positively viewed by some people here, Russell said the mission here is changing views.
“I do believe we’re changing perceptions,” he said.
The U.S. helicopters have been flying with large American flags pasted on both sides, something they normally don’t do, Russell said.
“We do it so people know we’re here to help out,” he said.
Army Sgt. Jesus Avery, the flight engineer on Sunday, has seen both the best and worst while here.
“I’ve seen a lot of destruction and people in dire need of help,” he said. “But when you fly in and see smiles on their faces, it makes you feel pretty good.”