U.S. military hauling food, water, clothing, manpower to Southeast Asia
January 2, 2005
U.S. military officials in the Pacific continued pouring resources into Southeast Asia on Thursday, preparing for large-scale humanitarian and relief operations in the 11 countries rocked by last weekend’s massive earthquake and ferocious tsunami.
Army Lt. Col. Vi Strong, a Pacific Command spokeswoman, said three disaster-relief assessment teams and a forward command element are on the ground in Utapao, Thailand.
Aid packages were unloaded Thursday from six C-130s that flew in from Yokota Air Base, Japan. KC-135 aircraft from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, and Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, also arrived in Thailand and Sri Lanka, carrying assessment teams and material needed to establish the command, control and communication structure for Joint Task Force 536, which is being headed by Lt. Gen. Robert R. Blackman, commander of the Okinawa-based III Marine Expeditionary Force.
A Marine spokeswoman on Okinawa said a schedule for sending additional personnel to the disaster areas would not be set until the advance teams that departed earlier this week report back.
A disaster-relief assessment team also will gauge the situation in Indonesia, Strong said.
“Now that the forward element is there, we have an opportunity to see what is required,” she said. “Then, I think we’ll have a better handle on which way to go — and how to best use our resources.
“We’re still determining what is most needed. We’re doing the immediate things, taking care of basic human needs. In the days to come, I’m sure there’ll be a lot more things to be identified that we can help with.”
The gruesome aftermath of last Sunday’s devastation has been staggering, with more than 114,000 confirmed dead in the region. More than half a million people reportedly were injured.
The U.S. military’s response has come from all parts of the Pacific. It’s part of a widespread relief campaign that includes the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, host nations and various humanitarian relief agencies — all pitching in to identify requirements and coordinate assistance efforts.
On Friday, the USS Fort McHenry was slated to leave Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, while Yokota Air Base officials also planned to dispatch additional troops and supplies for the disaster-relief effort. Air Force 1st Lt. Warren Comer, a 374th Airlift Wing spokesman, said Yokota’s “ongoing operation [would] continue into the foreseeable future.”
The anticipated departure of the Fort McHenry, an amphibious dock landing ship, led Sasebo residents to fill eight pallets with donations, which were brought to the ship Thursday morning.
“Fort McHenry is prepared and ready to provide humanitarian assistance to the disaster-relief effort ongoing,” said Capt. Alan R. Moore, deputy commander of Commander, Task Force 76.
Representatives of Sasebo organizations involved with the collection of relief items said the Fort McHenry was set to leave Friday for Thailand. However, Navy officials would not confirm a date for the ship’s departure or say where it will operate after arriving.
“Amphibious ships, such as the Fort McHenry … are uniquely compatible for such missions, and regularly train to react to humanitarian assistance,” Moore said.
In early December, the Fort McHenry participated in humanitarian-relief efforts for victims of violent storms and mudslides in the Philippines, along with more than 600 Marines, sailors and airmen from Okinawa. The ship returned to Sasebo on Dec. 23.
Community contributions added to the Fort McHenry on Thursday include more than 10,000 pounds of clothing and food, according to Jerry Havens, Sasebo Navy League Council president.
Cmdr. Harvey Ranard, Sasebo’s command chaplain, thanked base leaders for their “thoughtfulness … and for the work in staging the supplies for transport.”
“May our prayers be that these supplies touch both the hands and hearts of those who need them the most,” he said.
At Kadena, two KC-135 Stratotankers took off early Thursday for Utapao with six pallets each of water and Meals, Ready to Eat, said Maj. Mike Paoli, an 18th Wing spokesman.
“Also, a C-130 Hercules from Yokota left here about 9:30 a.m. loaded with heavy equipment,” Paoli said. A third KC-135 departed Okinawa on a refueling mission.
Andersen officials planned no additional troop movements Thursday after sending 52 airmen to Thailand a day earlier as part of the Air Expeditionary Task Force, the Air Force component of Joint Task Force 536.
“They’re getting things set up to begin airlift operations,” said Tech. Sgt. Bryan Gatewood, a 36th Air Expeditionary Wing spokesman at Andersen. “We’re always ready to go and assist if we’re called upon, but I haven’t heard anything more going on just yet.
“Our main goal is to be as expedient as we can to help lessen the suffering of the people over there. We want to help marshal the cargo coming in to make sure the supplies are getting to the right spots.”
Prior to the deployment, Andersen servicemembers were briefed about mission conduct and the grave situation that awaited them in earthquake and tsunami-ravaged areas, according to the Pacific Daily News. Maj. Greg Woodbury, an Andersen chaplain, tried to prepare the group.
“It’s hard to deal with the death and destruction. It breaks the people, and if you’re not prepared for it, it overwhelms you,” he told the paper. “The sights and smells stay with you forever.”
Misawa Air Base, Japan, had committed no assets to the humanitarian campaign on Thursday but officials said they awaited the call.
“Misawa Air Base stands ready to provide assistance to the affected region, but we haven’t received an execute order yet,” said 1st Lt. James Lage, a base spokesman.
Strong said six more Navy P-3 Orion aircraft from Kadena will be sent to Utapao in coming days. They’ll join the three already in Thailand to expand search-and-rescue efforts.
PACOM officials also have summoned eight maritime propositioning ships — large cargo vessels packed with food, fresh water and other relief supplies — to the impacted areas. They should arrive in a week to 10 days from Guam and Diego Garcia.
“These are commercial ships that have been leased to the Military Sealift Command,” Strong said, “and they serve as floating warehouses for our expeditionary forces.”
They can carry up to 450,000 gallons of fresh water and generate up to 90,000 gallons of potable water each day, she added. They also haul heavy transport and relief equipment such as bulldozers, generators, five-ton trucks, amphibious vehicles and Humvees.
Two forensic teams from the POW Account Command will arrive in Utapao this weekend, with additional units standing by. Strong said they’ll help in recovery and identification processes.
No lengths have been established for most of the deployments, officials said.
“U.S. forces will remain only as long as necessary in order for affected nations to conduct sustained disaster-relief operations on their own,” Strong said. “Our primary concern is to rapidly reduce the further loss of life and human suffering.”
The U.S. military’s disaster-relief campaign won’t adversely affect PACOM’s obligations in the global war on terrorism, she added.
“We’re structured to rapidly respond to any crisis around the globe,” Strong said.
Greg Tyler, David Allen and Jennifer H. Svan contributed to this report.
Aid by the pound
Donated items from Sasebo include five tri-walls of clothing and three plastic-wrapped pallets containing almost 3,300 lbs. of food. The pallets of food include:
¶ 180 lbs. of dry milk.
¶ 717 lbs. of fruit cocktail.
¶ 405 lbs. of diced peaches.
¶ 125 lbs. of assorted crackers.
¶ 173 lbs. of assorted granola bars.
¶ 1,342 lbs. of instant white grits.
¶ 144 lbs. of prepared dried coconut.
¶ 165 lbs. of peanut butter.
— Stars and Stripes