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Spanish engineers build an X-ray hall in Arja, Pakistan, following a devastating earthquake in October that killed more than 80,000 people. SHAPE forces, a multinational group that includes U.S. troops, have flown 1,000 helicopter sorties into the quake victims.
Spanish engineers build an X-ray hall in Arja, Pakistan, following a devastating earthquake in October that killed more than 80,000 people. SHAPE forces, a multinational group that includes U.S. troops, have flown 1,000 helicopter sorties into the quake victims. (Courtesy of NATO)
Spanish engineers build an X-ray hall in Arja, Pakistan, following a devastating earthquake in October that killed more than 80,000 people. SHAPE forces, a multinational group that includes U.S. troops, have flown 1,000 helicopter sorties into the quake victims.
Spanish engineers build an X-ray hall in Arja, Pakistan, following a devastating earthquake in October that killed more than 80,000 people. SHAPE forces, a multinational group that includes U.S. troops, have flown 1,000 helicopter sorties into the quake victims. (Courtesy of NATO)
A jingle truck delivers aid to earthquake victims in Pakistan.
A jingle truck delivers aid to earthquake victims in Pakistan. (Courtesy of NATO)

The multinational NATO Disaster Relief Team enters its final month in Pakistan having recently eclipsed several milestones during its 90-day earthquake relief operation.

Helicopter crews flew their 1,000th sortie into and out of the stricken region, ferrying supplies and medical evacuees.

The NATO sorties, which use four German heavy-lift CH-53 helicopters and one Explorer Air Rescue Helicopter from Luxembourg, have evacuated more than 3,500 victims of the Oct. 8 quake and delivered more than 1,500 tons of relief goods.

“It’s a very rewarding mission, when you see the people up there basically left with nothing,” said Maj. Eric Bruijn, of the Netherlands and NATO, in a telephone interview from Islamabad. “If you could see that you can help them out, it’s very, very satisfying work.

“We are received with so much welcome from the people there when we get into the areas, which is really amazing.”

The sorties begin at Chaklala air base in Islamabad. Helicopters fly to a fuel farm in Abbotabad, about 50 miles to the northeast and 3,000 feet higher in elevation. From there, the choppers ferry their supplies and evacuees back and forth from the Himalayan foothills before returning to Chaklala after a day’s work.

The weather has cooperated with both the earthquake victims and relief workers.

“Normally, the temperature this time of year should be way below zero (Celsius),” Bruijn said. “We had minus 10, minus 12 for a couple of days, but all of a sudden it warmed up again.”

The effort also marked the first humanitarian deployment of the NATO Response Force 5’s Land Component, which is commanded by the Spanish military.

“I’m so glad we’ve done it,” said U.S. Army Capt. Juan Suaro, an NRF-5 Land Component spokesman. “It put us to the test, and now we’re able to certify that we are ready.”

The land component includes Spanish and Polish light engineer units, an Italian engineer unit with heavy construction equipment, British engineer unit that specializes in high-altitude work, and a multinational team of medics operating the NATO Air Mobile Medical teams.

The mobile medical teams of French, Czech, Dutch and other medics are being transported by helicopter into higher, remote areas. On occasion, they reach their final destination on mules.

“The people don’t want to go all the way to the valley if they can see a doctor there,” Bruijn said. “The majority of people would have to do that on foot. It’s quite a travel.

“It’s more comfortable for them to go to the mobile medical team that’s coming to their village.”

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