III MEF Marines, sailors may begin Pakistan aid mission soon
CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa — Marines and sailors from III Marine Expeditionary Force, packed and ready to head to Pakistan to provide humanitarian relief to earthquake victims, could get the word to go this weekend.
“Stay flexible,” said Lt. Col. Jamie Gannon, the commanding officer of the Pakistan-bound detachment of 200-plus Marines and sailors from Okinawa’s 3rd Marine Logistics Group (3rd MLG) during a Friday morning formation here.
Gannon told the troops he still awaited the official word to go, but he expected it soon. Until they got the green light, he said, they needed to continue to stay focused.
“You’ve all been working hard … I’m extremely impressed,” Gannon told the servicemembers as they stood in formation in front of filled shipment containers and pallets of gear ready to go.
The group, which includes a Bravo Surgical Company from 3rd Medical Battalion and support Marines from battalions throughout III MEF, is slated to set up somewhere close to Muzaffarabad, Pakistan, Gannon said in an earlier interview. Among equipment they’re taking: an operating room suite, a mobile emergency room and 90 cots for patients, as well as all the gear they need to be a self-sustained unit.
“The Marines and sailors who form this detachment have capabilities that are desperately needed in Pakistan, and they’re ready to perform,” said Capt. Danny Chung, 3rd MLG spokesman.
While waiting to deploy, Gannon said Friday, they would continue to receive information on the area, including expected patient flow and the changing weather as the harsh Himalayan winter approaches.
Gannon told the Marines and sailors that if they find any free time, they should study up on cold weather conditions and survival. When he asked how many troops had never seen snow, more than a dozen raised their hands.
As the group’s departure nears, Gannon said he wants troops to work safely and not cut corners to meet deadlines.
“Safety is paramount,” he said. “I would rather delay than get someone hurt. I’ll be late for the plane if it means getting everyone there in one piece.”
To prepare for the humanitarian relief mission, the Marines and sailors have received cultural sensitivity classes. Gannon said they also are assembling an information handbook with “dos and don’ts” and even a few phrases in languages spoken in Pakistan.
This will be Seaman Cesar Garciabueno’s first deployment. The sailor, with 3rd MLG’s Medical Logistics Company, said he’s eager to go and excited about the upcoming mission.
Although watching the news and visualizing the destruction they’ll likely see was a bit overwhelming, Garciabueno said, helping others in need is just basic decency.
“I’m also excited about going,” he said, “because it will help achieve better relations with that part of the world, and we’ll be lending a helping hand.”