USAFE airmen, aircraft pitching in during evacuation effort
July 21, 2006
Airmen based in Europe are helping evacuate Americans out of Lebanon, and then treating those who need medical attention.
Some C-130s assigned to the 86th Airlift Wing from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, have flown into the area in the past two days, carrying medical personnel and supplies, communication specialists and equipment and others with specialized skills, Maj. Gen. Philip Breedlove, vice commander of the 16th Air Force at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, said Thursday afternoon.
They join a contingent from the 352nd Special Operations Group from RAF Mildenhall, England. The Navy — including some Europe-based assets — and Marines are involved as well.
The team of 22 airmen from Ramstein include doctors, nurses and medical technicians from the base’s 435th Medical Group. The airmen left Ramstein in two C-130 cargo planes Thursday morning, Air Force officials said. One C-130 was diverted by an apparent engine problem and landed at Souda Bay, Crete. Personnel on the ground were assessing the state of the aircraft as Stars and Stripes went to press.
While the team waited to continue its flight to Cyprus, Col. Carol Vermillion, commander of the 435th Medical Group and team deployment commander, said her group is eager to help the evacuees.
“I think everybody’s excited,” Vermillion said. “They want to do it. … We get an opportunity to do what we trained to do.”
Breedlove said about 80 airmen based in Europe are contributing to an overall mission led by U.S. Central Command.
Medical personnel will be based at “joint staging areas in the region.” He declined to specify the locations.
“We are also engaged in bringing Americans out of the conflict area,” he said, declining to elaborate.
Because some of the aircraft will be flying into the conflict area, Breedlove said there is potential danger for those involved and “this is not just a routine mission.”
He said the airmen took enough food and water to sustain themselves: “We didn’t want to be a further burden on an already-strained area.”
Breedlove said the Air Force mission was not to fly civilians to Europe or back to the States. One rumor had planes shuttling people back to Ramstein and then perhaps back to the States.
“That’s a bad rumor,” he said. “There is no plan I know of to do that. I think the intention is to get them to a safe situation where the State Department or they themselves can provide further movement.”
Breedlove said he couldn’t say how long the missions will take.
“That’s up to the civilian leadership to decide and depends on the situation there,” he said. “We’ve got some very skilled people down there … they’ll accomplish their missions … and we’ll be there as long as we’re needed.”
Stars and Stripes reporter Scott Schonauer contributed to this report.