Troops leave Pakistan after aid mission that has 'written history'
QASIM ARMY AIRFIELD, Pakistan — American, Australian and Pakistani servicemembers bade each other farewell during an emotional ceremony Thursday at Qasim Army Airfield.
The ceremony, which marked the exodus of American troops sent to Pakistan to aid victims of October’s earthquake, was attended by members of the 1st Cavalry Division’s 2nd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment from Fort Hood, Texas; Marines from U.S. Marine Logistics Group 3 of Okinawa; and members of Australian Joint Task Force 632, a unit composed of Army and Air Force members.
U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Ryan Crocker and Rear Adm. Michael LeFever, commander of the Combined Disaster Assistance Center, Pakistan, also attended, as did Maj. Gen. Javed Aslam Tahir, commander of Pakistani Army Aviation.
LeFever was visibly moved as he addressed the crowd.
“Part of us will always remain in Pakistan,” he said, his voice strained with emotion. “… It has been truly remarkable, and we can never thank you enough.”
Crocker praised servicemembers’ part in what he described as the largest American military aid mission since the Berlin Airlift.
“You have written history in a very major way,” he said. “You have also written a chapter in how nations work together.
“You came in to do good. And in doing so, you have brought enormous honor on yourselves, your services and your country. You have saved the lives of thousands and given tens of thousands the opportunity to put their lives back together.”
Javed reiterated his gratitude to nations that volunteered military assistance.
“Your wholehearted participation in Operation Lifeline has not only earned you the respect of every soldier in the Pakistani military,” he said, “but it has also left an indelible mark on the hearts and the minds of the people of Pakistan.”
Crocker also paused to thank the small contingent of Australians for what many in the crowd — American, Australian and Pakistani alike — noted as a unique diplomatic effort to unite the three cultures.
“I’d particularly like to thank our Australian allies, who went above and beyond the call of duty by teaching us to play cricket,” he said, drawing chuckles from the ranks of Australians, soldiers and airmen.
“Teaching us to play cricket, sort of,” he added, to more laughter. “Trying to teach us to play cricket.”
The befuddling British sport, many said, played a prominent role in linking aid-givers and Pakistani earthquake victims.
“There’s been a lot of friendships made between the Australians and the (Pakistani) locals,” said Australian army 1st Lt. Margaret Nichols. “I think cricket helped. It’s like an international language.”
Servicemembers, many of whom will depart Pakistan in upcoming days, said they were honored to have had the opportunity to aid earthquake victims.
Spc. John Payne, 21, of Oklahoma City, said the mission “broadened my horizons on the Pakistani culture. I didn’t know much about it before I got here.”
“I am glad I came,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Riyad Khan, 25, of Orlando, Fla. “Being in the military, especially after being to Iraq and all … this is one of the good aspects about being the army, directly helping people.”