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Navy Rear Adm. Michael LeFever accepts a Pakistani flag patch from Pakistan army Maj. Gen. Javed Aslam Tahir at the handover of Muzaffarabad Airfield Tuesday morning.
Navy Rear Adm. Michael LeFever accepts a Pakistani flag patch from Pakistan army Maj. Gen. Javed Aslam Tahir at the handover of Muzaffarabad Airfield Tuesday morning. (Anita Powell / S&S)
Navy Rear Adm. Michael LeFever accepts a Pakistani flag patch from Pakistan army Maj. Gen. Javed Aslam Tahir at the handover of Muzaffarabad Airfield Tuesday morning.
Navy Rear Adm. Michael LeFever accepts a Pakistani flag patch from Pakistan army Maj. Gen. Javed Aslam Tahir at the handover of Muzaffarabad Airfield Tuesday morning. (Anita Powell / S&S)
Pakistani soldiers from Pakistan Army Aviation stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their American counterparts from the the 267th Quartermaster Company, 49th Quartermaster Group of Ft. Lee, Va., at Muzaffarabad, Pakistan.
Pakistani soldiers from Pakistan Army Aviation stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their American counterparts from the the 267th Quartermaster Company, 49th Quartermaster Group of Ft. Lee, Va., at Muzaffarabad, Pakistan. (Anita Powell / S&S)

MUZAFFARABAD AIRFIELD, Pakistan — Just over five months after arriving to aid victims of the October earthquake, American soldiers on Tuesday handed the reins back to the Pakistani army in the area hit hardest by the quake.

Tuesday’s ceremony in Muzaffarabad was one of several transfer of authority ceremonies held this week. American forces are slated to depart Pakistan this week.

The tone was jubilant as Pakistani Army Aviation soldiers accepted responsibility for the Muzaffarabad refueling point from the 267th Quartermaster Company, 49th Quartermaster Group of Fort Lee, Va.

Maj. Gen. Javed Aslam Tahir, commander of Pakistani Army Aviation, said the Pakistani army will continue to use the refueling point for at least the next two months, as victims begin to rebuild their destroyed homes. He praised U.S. military efforts in helping earthquake victims. “I think the quickest response the world has ever seen was with this contingent,” Javed said. “I think this kind of response, the dedication shown by this contingent, is unparalleled.”

The refueling point, which pumped an average of 7,000 gallons of fuel daily, allowed the military to triple the number of supplies sent into earthquake-stricken areas, said Navy Rear Adm. Michael LeFever, commander of the Combined Disaster Assistance Center, Pakistan.

“This refueling station, what it represents is the lifeblood of the relief efforts,” LeFever said. “I cannot say enough about their dedication. It was their relentless efforts that made this possible.”

American soldiers from Task Force Wright, which included the 267th Quartermaster Company, spoke highly of their experience.

“Of the many deployments I’ve been on, this has got to rank as the best,” said Sgt. 1st Class Bernard Howard, 37, the task force’s first sergeant. “It’s very rewarding to help mankind. … What a lot of people think is that our military is there to fight the war.”

Maj. Tom Jessee, 39, a member of 1st Air Cavalry Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas, said this was his fourth humanitarian deployment in the past year — he deployed to hurricanes Katrina and Rita and was sent to Pakistan twice for earthquake relief missions.

“For the last few years, our country’s been focused more on an anti-terrorism effort … to come out to this part of the world and give assistance and show them we’re not the bad guys they think we are … it was rewarding,” he said.

Pakistani army 1st Lt. Hamid Riaz, 23, of the 87th Medium Artillery Battalion, said he did not think the relief effort could have been done without American military help.

“They really helped the disaster effort,” he said. “Everybody knows that a great effort and job they have done. They are really professionals and great soldiers.”

Javed said the American military’s presence created more effects than simply the tangible ones.

“The people of Pakistan and the people of this area, I think they have a very good and positive impression of America,” he said.

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