Yokota sends teams to harder-to-reach parts of disaster area
January 6, 2005
Pacific-based U.S. military forces added servicemembers and equipment Tuesday to support troops already dispatched to South Asia for tsunami-relief efforts.
Officials at Yokota Air Base, Japan, added another piece to their contribution, as a small mission-support team left Tuesday on a C-17.
A Tanker Airlift Control Element, commonly called TALCE, attached to the 613th Contingency Response Group, is headed to Thailand. It carries additional command-and-control equipment to be used in targeting more operations to help harder-to-reach tsunami victims.
“They’re going down to help air crews get into less-accessible runways and more austere places such as Indonesia and Sumatra,” 1st Lt. Warren Comer, a 374th Airlift Wing spokesman, said Tuesday. “They’ll help out in places where there’s a smaller airfield that’s maybe damaged, or they have very minimal support facilities at that location.”
In the initial days after the tragedy, Yokota dispatched a handful of TALCE teams to Utapao, Thailand. They’ve been helping C-130 aircrews get relief supplies to different spots around South Asia.
“Without the TALCE teams, we wouldn’t be able to distribute them as well. They’re a very integral part of what we do,” Comer said.
Tuesday’s deployment brings Yokota’s total tsunami relief force commitment to about 190 troops. The 613th Contingency Response Group is a tenant organization on base.
No humanitarian-relief supplies were taken down on the latest C-17 mission, Comer said. Rather, the equipment hauled by the team will help U.S. forces function more efficiently at Utapao and other forward-operating locations in the region.
“We’ll continue to provide support whenever called upon,” he said. “It’s a changing environment right now. We’re in a period where we’re looking at things and waiting for them to come to us. But we’re ready to supply any help to anyone who asks for it as quickly as possible.”
Also Tuesday, the WestPac Express, the high-speed catamaran under contract to the IIICQ Marine Expeditionary Force, left Okinawa to be used to shuttle disaster relief supplies between countries hard-hit by the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunamis.
The ship was headed for Utapao, Thailand, the staging area for distributing disaster relief supplies and personnel along the ravaged coasts of Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, according to Staff Sgt. Suki Forbes, Okinawa Marine spokeswoman.
The WestPac Express is scheduled to arrive in Thailand later this week, Forbes said.
“Supplies aboard the vessel include military equipment, food, cots and clothing,” she said in a news release. “After dropping off supplies in Thailand, the WestPac Express will serve as a shuttle for military equipment and personnel” among Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
Meanwhile, the Okinawa-based 3rd Marine Division announced the formation of Combined Support Group-Indonesia to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to Indonesia’s Aceh province, the area hardest hit by the earthquake and tsunamis. Whole villages along the northwestern coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the area closest to the magnitude 9.0-earthquake’s epicenter, were totally destroyed.
“The mission of CSG-I, led by Brig. Gen. Christian B. Cowdrey, is to support the government of Indonesia-led response to save lives and mitigate human suffering,” a Marine news release stated.
CSG-I is coordinating U.S. relief efforts through the USS Abraham Lincoln. As of Tuesday, the sailors aboard the aircraft carrier have delivered 110,100 pounds of food, water and medical supplies, and conducted more than 45 medical evacuation flights, the release stated.
The Marines and sailors of CSG-I are setting up a command post in the northern Sumatra town of Medan, where they are assessing the situation, according to Col. Drew Bennett, CSG-I chief of staff.
“We expect to see an increase in our operational capabilities within the next few days as we get more units established in the region,” Bennett stated in the release.