Contingency response wing returns from Pakistan relief mission

By on Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J.: Airmen from the 621st Contingency Response Wing have completed operations in Pakistan in support of flood relief distribution efforts after torrential rains and flooding affected more than 20 million people and left one-fifth of the agricultural country under water.

The last seven members of the 37 member team returned home Nov. 24 after nearly 90 days at Chaklala Air Force Base, Pakistan. The team in Pakistan was relieved by a team of specialists from various Air Mobility Command bases. This new group will continue to assist the Pakistani government and international aid agencies with aid distribution support.

The 621st CRW Airmen arrived Aug. 28 at the request of the Pakistani government and the U.S. State Department to assist Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, the equivalent to the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Lt. Col. Shawn Underwood, the 621st Contingency Response Element commander.

Heavy monsoons deluged northern Pakistan in July, with more than 26 inches of rain, precipitating one of the worst floods in Pakistan’s history. At its height, the flood waters submerged the better part of an area equivalent to a length of the eastern seaboard of the United States, stretching from Maine to Georgia. Unlike an ocean tsunami, this wave moved slowly, finally cresting in southern Pakistan in late September. The flood left nearly 2,000 people dead.

“The Airmen of the 621st (CRW) assisted with the pallet buildup and distribution of more than 20 million pounds of international relief supplies,” Colonel Underwood said. “In addition to building pallets of food and shelters for distribution to flood victims, we also processed the arrival of helicopters and support equipment for the U.S. Army’s 16th Combat Aviation Brigade and the 15th and 26th Marine Expeditionary Units.”

After being offloaded from larger C-17 Globemaster IIIs, these helicopters were then moved further downrange to deliver critical supplies and evacuate flood-displaced Pakistanis.

As the flood waters moved south and areas in the north became accessible, the focus of relief and rescue efforts shifted constantly. One key destination for aid relief was a central reception point in the northern Kashmir region on the airfield at Skardu. After specialists assessed the airfield, the CRE deployed a 3-man team forward to support operations. Together with the Pakistani military, they were able to offload three C-17s and three C-130s aircraft each day, resulting in the delivery of more than two million pounds of aid in ten days.

Each morning, and most afternoons, Colonel Underwood would meet with leaders of the Pakistani air force at Chaklala AFB to discuss the day’s goals and obstacles. The meetings often covered more than the day’s flying schedule.

“I would present the issues or goals of the day to Group Capt. Atique over a cup of hot tea, and he would make a quick phone call to brief a subordinate, then turn to me and say, ‘While we wait for that to be solved, let’s talk about cricket,’” Colonel Underwood said. “The game of cricket became a sort of metaphor for the deployment. It’s a total team exercise, but it has much different rules and time scales. We were trying to learn and accomplish disaster response the Pakistani way — by their rules.”

The team left with more than knowledge of foreign sport, said Maj. Christopher Lacek, the 621st CRE director of operations.

“The best part of the trip was being told ‘thank you’ by people you did not know, seeing people’s faces light up when they saw you were from the United States, watching families board an American aircraft en route to a more stable area of Pakistan,” Major Lacek said. “It was worth it all to realize their opinion of America may have changed.”

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