By Staff Sgt. Kali Gradishar, U.S. Air Forces Central Public Affairs
/ Published August 31, 2010
CHAKLALA AIR FORCE BASE, Pakistan -- More than 30 members from the 621st Contingency Response Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, arrived at Chaklala Air Force Base, Pakistan, to provide additional manpower, equipment and organization to current flood relief operations out of Pakistan Air Force's Central Flood Relief Cell.
The contingency response element flew in Aug. 28 on two C-17 Globemaster III aircraft.
"Back in July 29 and 30 when the flooding started... were given a warning order to be prepared to deploy," said Lt. Col. Shawn Underwood, contingency response element commander. Once the element received the official order to deploy, they brought "a small team here to Chaklala to support 24-hour operations in support of the Pakistani government's flood relief effort."
"Right now, this is what we call a light CRE. We have [more than 30] people here on the ground," he said. The CRE's "role is to oversee... the American military effort coming into the country -- to receive them and to help them get on their way with their particular missions and to partner with the government of Pakistan, the Pakistan Air Force, USAID and all the other relief agencies that are here to get as much relief effort and supplies out to the people who need it as fast as we can."
The contingency response element, or CRE, is comprised of a number of Airmen in different specialties including aerial porters, loadmasters, airfield management, a vehicle mechanic, an aerospace ground equipment mechanic, an independent duty medical technician, a security forces liaison and various others. The CRE also brought along additional equipment such as a K-loader and an extra forklift to increase the pace of operations out of the flood relief cell.
"We added to what [Air Forces Central] had already forwarded here," said Underwood, the 621s t CRW chief of wing operations at Joint Base MDL. "As we know from disasters we've seen -- I was in Haiti and this unit also supported the 2005 Pakistani earthquake -- there's a little different feel to this. It's a little slower developing, but at the same time it's larger scale incident.
"We're hoping that as we're getting the tents, the grain, the flour, dates, some of those high-energy biscuits, and blankets, that we're going to give the people some relief as this slowly moves past so they can... really start their own efforts to rebuild," said the lieutenant colonel. "In a sense, we're really buying them some time in the relief effort so their government can help them move forward."
While some components of the contingency response element have only one person filling that capacity, members in each career field step in to help one another - a team mentality often found with contingency groups such as this one. With the team mentality, plus the additional manpower and equipment, the CRE is expected to greatly enhance current air operations out of the flood relief cell.
"The contingency response element will bring the capability in to run eight to 10 aircraft a day out of here, when we've only been able to do three or four," said Col. Greg Nelson, director of mobility forces for the humanitarian relief in Pakistan. "We would be able to expand the operations specific to Chaklala."
While a contingency response element has the capability of setting up and operating a small airfield when one is not already present, adding the CRE to an existing airfield only enhance operations at that location.
"The contingency response element is an expeditionary capability. They are fully self-contained. They bring power. They bring communications. They bring material-handling equipment, forklifts, etc.," Nelson said. "In this instance there's an existing air force base, and we're working with the Pakistan Air Force... This augments and supports the capabilities that they have and gives us a larger ability to run more airplanes through here."
The CRE adds to what operations, structure and organization the Pakistan air force base already contained in their mission to provide relief to the people in their country affected by the torrential floods that began late July. To date, according to Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority Web site, the disaster has killed more than 1,600 and injured more than 2,500 people, and more than 1.2 million homes were damaged or destroyed.
Blankets, cholera and emergency medicine kits, clothing, generators, mosquito nets and other relief supplies have poured into the country from various nations. Many of those supplies have been, and will continue to be, carried by U.S. aircraft in support of the flood relief effort.
"We're planning on being here as long as the people of Pakistan need our help and as long as they wish us to assist them," said Underwood. "Partnering with the Pakistanis, they've been extremely supportive in our efforts to get here and to find ways that we can work together to make the operation even more effective."
"Anytime that the people of the United States see other citizens of the world in dire need, we have historically always felt the need to assist," he said. "Coming here is doing the work of the American people, and it's fulfilling a promise that we've made to ourselves to be good citizens of the world. And to me, being personally involved is a very humbling experience."