Air Force enters second week of earthquake support
by 1st Lt. Erick Saks
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - As the U.S. Air Force enters its second week of humanitarian operations here, the 818th Contingency Response Group continues to handle tens of thousands of pounds of cargo each day.
In the week following the earthquake in Pakistan, the 818th CRG, which is assigned to the 18th Air Force, handled almost 700 tons of humanitarian relief cargo, according to Capt. Christopher Simmons, the unit's operations officer.
"Each night, Air Force cargo planes carry thousands of pounds of humanitarian aid to the base, and each day, the aid is distributed throughout the country," said Captain Simmons. "Our people are working around the clock to make sure the supplies are getting out to the people who need them."
Operating from Pakistan's Chaklala Air Base, the 818th CRG is responsible for the movement of U.S. humanitarian aid brought into the country. However, the CRG has also provided assistance to several other countries, according to Col. Richard Walberg, 818th CRG commander. Recently, U.S. forces partnered with an Iranian aircrew to get aid to the Pakistani people.
"An Iranian IL-76 (cargo aircraft) arrived at the base with a field hospital, but no way to unload it," said Colonel Walberg. "They asked if we could lend them a hand. Of course, we helped them out. We have also worked closely with the Germans, Japanese, Swiss, Afghanis, and a lot of others."
Humanitarian distribution operations were limited at the onset of the operation because all U.S. aid was being distributed by just five U.S. Army CH-47 Chinooks and three Blackhawk helicopters, according to Colonel Walberg. However, as the operation has evolved, the CRG has found more avenues to distribute the humanitarian aid.
"Task Force Griffin is our expanding operations to include a total of 24 helos. We're also sending the aid by air drops and Pakistani distribution trucks now," said the colonel. "It's been frustrating at times since we have a lot of aid here which still needs to get out, but we are working the issues and are making good progress."
Despite the long hours, contingency response group members are in good spirits, according to Tech. Sgt. Shawn Boyd, an 818th CRG communication specialist.
"This is really an amazing operation," said Sergeant Boyd. "I have never seen anything like this in my 17 years in the Air Force. There are so many countries involved, and the Pakistani people have been so grateful that we're here. A lot of them have come up to thank me and thank America." (Courtesy of AMC News)