By SOF Editor on Wed, 02/17/2010 - 11:17am
A small team of officers at Joint Base Charleston was recently called upon to bridge the gap between South Carolina repatriation efforts and Air Force flights transporting Haiti evacuees to Charleston International Airport in South Carolina.
For weeks, Air Force space-available airlift had transported evacuees to other areas of the United States, but after an announcement the week of Feb. 7 that flights into Charleston's airport were planned, the need for Airmen to act as an intermediary became apparent.
Col. Martha Meeker, the 628th Air Base Wing commander, selected Lt. Col. John Donahue, the 628th ABW chief of Wing Plans to lead the team. Colonel Donahue and four other Airmen made sure all things on the military end mesh cohesively with repatriation operations at the civilian airport. His team included Capts. Brent Gordon and Dana Dailey from the 317th Airlift Squadron and Capts. Tony Mione and Brandon Dow from the 437th Airlift Wing, Wing Plans Office.
The civilian-led repatriation program is being aided by several agencies including the Charleston County Emergency Management Department, South Carolina Department of Social Services, the local Community Emergency Response Team, American Red Cross, and the Customs and Border Protection.
At the heart of operation sits Colonel Donahue and his team, hot on the trail of each potential flight bound for Charleston. The colonel and his team keep in constant contact with people on the ground in Haiti and with civilian authorities managing repatriations in the local airport.
"Having Colonel Donahue and the Air Force representation over here with us has totally eliminated any confusion in communication," said Kathy Haynes, the Charleston County Emergency Preparedness Division director. "When he knows stuff or when his people who are assigned here know something, we know it just as quick as they know it."
The task can be daunting and the hours grueling, Colonel Donahue said. Nevertheless, his team pushed forward to find solutions.
"We quickly fatigued. Many people were up for well more than 24 hours," he said. "We realized that within the first 24 hours we needed up set up a plan, but it took us about 48 hours to put it into effect. So, that first 48 hours you had people awake for most of it."
The plan they devised scheduled flights between the hours of 10 p.m. and 10 a.m. The scjhdeule allowevacuees would arrive to the airport during the least congested hours. Additionally, a review of commercial air traffic to and from Charleston International Airport set the maximum number of evacuees allowed per day at 300. The single maximum number of evacuees per plane was set at 75.
As of Feb. 9, no indication had been made as to how long the Air Force would continue facilitating evacuations into Charleston International Airport. The colonel and his team said they are prepared to continue serving in their current role through the end of the month. So far, the team of Airmen has served as liaison for 15 Air Force missions into Charleston International Airport, allowing for the repatriation of more than 700 evacuees.