PYONGTAEK, South Korea — The U.S. military in South Korea will deploy medevac and heavy-cargo helicopters and several hundred troops to join the multinational relief effort in tsunami-stricken South Asia, officials said Thursday.

Departure dates and times were pending as of Thursday night, according to the U.S. military command in South Korea.

The Army’s 17th Aviation Brigade will send eight CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopters and about 125 soldiers to the region. The troops, from the brigade’s 2nd Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment, include aircrews, mechanics and supply troops.

“The Chinook helicopters, as heavy-lift aircraft, will provide significant capability of getting into remote areas in a very efficient, effective way,” Lt. Col. Tom Budzyna, chief spokesman for 8th U.S. Army in Seoul, told Stars and Stripes.

The Chinooks will be able to move large quantities of cargo. Combined with other aircraft assigned to the task, they’ll increase the ability to rush relief supplies and other cargo where needed, he said.

Also preparing to deploy but awaiting orders as of Thursday were about 200 troops from a “dust-off,” or medical evacuation, helicopter company of the Army’s 18th Medical Command. About half of that number are aviators; the balance mainly are helicopter maintenance and medical supply troops, Budzyna said.

The medevac unit is going “because they have the medical evacuation capability to quickly transport people that need medical attention to a facility that can give it to them,” Budzyna said.

“Even though the major wave of catastrophe has hit, there’s still the fear of disease that could spread,” he said. “So the medical evacuation, or ‘dust-off,’ company will be able to provide that evacuation” for those needing it.

Wednesday, officials at Osan Air Base in South Korea said the U.S. 7th Air Force will deploy two 12-member teams of engineers from the 554th Red Horse Squadron to Utapao, Thailand, to determine runways’ usability. Later, one team is to go from there to Sri Lanka, the other to Indonesia.

USFK officials said Thursday the deploying South Korea-based Army and Air Force elements will become part of Combined Support Force 536, which is overseeing the military side of relief efforts in the region.

The Combined Support Force will coordinate those efforts with the U.S. State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, host nations and humanitarian relief agencies.

In announcing the planned deployments, USFK said it was coordinating its plans closely with the South Korean government.

“USFK’s humanitarian deployments will not affect the security and deterrent capability of Combined Forces Command and USFK,” said Army Col. MaryAnn Cummings, USFK chief spokeswoman.

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