Yokota airmen to bolster security at South Asia relief points
January 8, 2005
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Yokota was slated to beef up its role in the U.S. military’s massive tsunami-relief effort this week by dispatching about 30 personnel from the 374th Security Forces Squadron to South Asia.
They’ll focus primarily on ensuring aircraft and installations there are protected but the group likely also will be asked to perform crowd control when aid packages are handed out, particularly in remote locations.
“As we’ve all seen on the TV news reports, lots of people get very close to the aircraft, with outstretched arms,” said 1st Lt. Warren Comer, a 374th Airlift Wing spokesman. “Security forces will be there to make sure the distribution process is a little more orderly. We want to get the relief supplies to those people but sometimes you’ve got to go into an area where there’s a lot of activity. Having security forces with you is an added bonus because you know you can control the environment a little better.
“All the jobs that security forces handle, they’ll be doing in a deployed environment,” Comer said. “They’re not going into a hostile environment or war zone, but a devastation area where we’ll provide relief.”
The scheduled deployment will raise Yokota’s force commitment in Operation Unified Assistance to about 270 troops. That includes Col. Mark Schissler, the 374th Airlift Wing commander, and 45 other airmen from the maintenance squadron and his immediate staff who left for South Asia on Thursday morning.
Late Wednesday, the security forces targeted for departure rolled up their sleeves — figuratively and literally — for last-minute immunizations, legal checkups and consultations with finance, public health and family support center representatives. Yokota’s chaplain corps also was part of the deployment line, set up in the back of Building 400 near the flightline.
“Each of those stations is designed to make sure people’s affairs are in order and they’re deployable,” said 1st Lt. Ben Alumbaugh, a 374th Airlift Wing spokesman. “It’s a safety net, so they don’t have something looming over their heads while they’re gone. They always try to do a mass line, especially for a short-notice TDY. We make sure to take care of these issues so they can fulfill the mission.”
Airman 1st Class Randy Gingery, making his first career deployment, said he isn’t sure what to expect in South Asia, where the staggering death toll from last month’s catastrophic earthquake and tsunamis has reached 150,000, with tens of thousands more people injured. He’s just hoping to help provide humanitarian assistance and restore order.
“I’m going to look for the best and not hope for the worst,” Gingery said. “I’m nervous but I’ve been trained and know what to do if anything gets out of hand. I’m pretty confident.”
Yokota’s security forces train regularly in riot control, said 1st Lt. Gregory Holmgren, the squadron’s executive officer. The contingent is carrying that type of gear on the trip, just in case such a situation arises.
But once they get to Utapao, Thailand — the main relief-distribution hub being used by the U.S. military — security of the airfield and tent sites will be the unit’s top priority, he added.
“Being able to maintain crowd control is essential,” Holmgren said. “We’re going down there to maintain the peace and protect our people at the same time.”
Once the outlying parts of the devastated region become safer, Yokota security forces may be asked to tag along on helicopter-relief missions to better secure the aircraft as crews hand out food, water and emergency medical supplies to the tragedy’s survivors, according to Capt. Bill Barron, the squadron’s operations officer.
“Helicopters are going where trucks and airplanes can’t,” Barron said. “Many roadways have been destroyed, so the only way to get anything in is with helicopters. It’s possible we’ll go to different areas that have smaller airfields with none to very little security. If that happens, we’ll go out to protect the aircraft.”
But this trip is hardly being viewed as routine by many of Yokota’s security forces personnel.
Senior Airman Aaron Redd, who’s been to the Middle East in support of the global war on terrorism, said the humanitarian aspect offers a unique perspective and is far more appealing.
“This is the good stuff,” he said, “where you can see the direct result of your efforts. We’ll get to see hands-on the good that we want to do. Nobody wants to fight a war.
“I became a cop to be able to help defend and protect people, not to enforce my will on others. I think most of us feel the same way. That’s what it’s really all about — service before self. We want to help those people out down there. I definitely like this better because you get a sense of satisfaction.”
Added Barron: “Our people are much more interested in doing these type of missions. The help you’re providing makes it special. We’re bringing supplies like food, blankets and clothes to victims of an unbelievable tragedy and many have been suffering since it happened. The positive feedback you get is very rewarding.”