By SOF Editor on Wed, 02/10/2010 - 11:12am
A March Air Reserve Base C-17 Globemaster III aircrew returned home Feb. 1 after flying a five-day humanitarian mission to Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
The nine-member crew from the 729th Airlift Squadron took 171,400 pounds of cargo and 25 Army and Air Force servicemembers into Haiti and airlifted 263 evacuees and aid workers out in a C-17.
March ARB officials have sent six missions and 40 Airmen to help move cargo into and evacuees out of Haiti since Jan. 15 as part of Operation Unified Response. They have evacuated more than 900 American citizens and legal aliens to the United States and flown in more than 1.5 million pounds of equipment and supplies to Haiti, following the 7.0 earthquake which struck there Jan. 12.
The first March ARB aircrew was put on alert early Jan. 26 and left the next day with seven media in tow to document the mission.
Three pilots, two loadmasters and two aircraft mechanics made up the crew. Two security forces Ravens -- the Air Force's equivalent to sky marshals -- were also onboard to provide security for the crew and plane.
The crew flew to Louisville, Ky., and picked up several Army vehicles, a pallet of supplies and 15 Soldiers from Fort Knox, Ky. The plane landed smoothly at midnight at Port-au-Prince, and the waiting aerial porters were able to unload the cargo bay on a quiet, uncrowded ramp.
The sun rose as the C-17 backed up and prepared to taxi and takeoff for the United States. Eight aid workers were on board to return home after working for a week in Haiti.
Forty-two hours after leaving March ARB, the crew landed at 8:30 a.m Jan. 28 at Orlando Sanford International Airport, Fla. Agents from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol boarded the plane to process the passengers while the crew went through its final checklists to shut down the plane. The crewmembers had 14-hours of crew rest and waited to hear details of their next mission.
The aircrew next left Orlando for Pope Air Force Base, N.C., Jan. 29 at 3 a.m., to pick up 41,000 pounds of cargo. Packed on 16 pallets, the cargo contained insect nets, tents, office supplies and 10 decontamination units, which had been partially converted into showers. Two Soldiers trained in converting the units to showers joined the crew for the 3.5-hour flight to Port-au-Prince.
Ramp space at Port-au-Prince is at a premium, so there is a 40-minute window for each airplane to arrive. Problems on the ground with cargo or passengers can easily bottleneck and cause mid-air delays. The buzz of daytime activity delayed the C-17 for 20 minutes.
Outside the Toussaint L'Ouverture Airport terminal, U.S. Customs and Border patrol screened passengers while Haitians stood outside the cordon hoping to find a job. Aid workers carried orphans through the screening area, trying to get them out of Haiti.
Some of the crew got to see the inside of the airport. There were big cracks everywhere in the concrete blocks and plaster. Some of the ceiling tiles had fallen, the glass doors were streaked with cracks and pools of water stood in the baggage claim area. The control tower was slightly askew and all the windows had been shattered. As a result, the airfield operations team was kept busy giving permission for landings and takeoffs, while working from a foldout table.
Back at the C-17, the first of the 176 evacuees lined up to waiting to board the plane. Many of them were exhausted and dehydrated from the heat.
Members of the C-17 crew helped elderly and injured passengers into seats on the sides of the aircraft. The remaining passengers sat on the floor of the aircraft, eight to a row. In this floor-loading configuration, each row of passengers sits below a long cargo strap that serves as a seat belt.
"None of us had ever floor-loaded anybody before," said Lt. Col. Jim Daronco, the mission commander. "Everybody did such a great job."
The C-17 was filled to capacity with aid workers headed home, and Haitians with U.S. passports or visas and their children. Some of the passengers had never flown before. When the plane touched down at the Orlando Sanford International Airport 1.5 hours later, the passengers cheered.
After the stop in Orlando, the crew flew to Charleston AFB, S.C., for a 38-hour crew rest and left Jan. 31 at 11 a.m. for Robins AFB, Ga., to pick up eight Airmen from the 53rd Combat Communications Squadron, who would be setting up communication equipment in Haiti. The plane also hauled 60,000 pounds of cargo; two fuel trucks and five pallets.
The third flight to Port-au-Prince went smoothly, with a quick offload as the sun was setting. Cynthia and Fabiols Fils, sisters from New Jersey, were among the 79 passengers who boarded the plane for the flight back to Orlando. They had been in Haiti for a week trying to help their sister and their mother get to the United States. Unfortunately, they had to leave without them.
"We've been helping people from our block," Fabiols Fils said. "The situation is unbelievable: no homes, no food."
She said no aid workers had stopped by the area yet, but that, "You would be surprised at how many people are helping each other."
Senior Airman Rahman Badarane, an aerial porter from Hill AFB, Utah, who had been in Haiti for 10 days, was also on the flight from Haiti to Orlando. He said the airport was running with much less chaos than when he first arrived when there didn't seem to be enough people, trucks, or supplies.
Another passenger was Marine Corps Maj. Wendy Garrity, the cyber services division chief for the U.S. Southern Command communication chief. Her team had been in Haiti, assessing how to expand the communication capability for the military through commercial vendors. That morning she had seen countless people dressed up in their Sunday-best, going to church despite their grave challenges.
"They're so resilient," she said.
The March ARB aircrew landed in Orlando at 11:11 p.m. and unloaded the passengers. The crew quickly prepared for the flight back to March ARB and took off at 12:17 a.m. After a 21-hour day, the crew landed at March ARB at 2 a.m.
"I'm glad that I was a part of (the mission) and that the training I've received made my contribution a part of something that was bigger than me," said Tech. Sgt. Levon Barney of the 452nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.