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Phoenix Ravens, FAST team aids Little Rock support of Peru humanitarian mission

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Stacia Zachary, 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. – Phoenix Ravens and Fly Away Security Team members from the 19th Security Forces Squadron are credited for creating buffer spaces, allowing aircrew and loadmasters to offload relief supplies during an two-week mission to assist the Government of Peru following devastating floods that practically drowned the South American nation.

At the request of the Government of Peru, two C-130 Hercules aircraft and crews from the 41st and 61st Airlift Squadrons flew to Lima, Peru, April 4, to support ongoing U.S. disaster assistance to communities in the country’s northern region.

Overall, the crews delivered $270,000 of donated Department of Defense monies which helped purchase water purification systems, portable solar generators and water pumps distributed to affected areas. During their time in Peru, the Little Rock team delivered more than 750,000 pounds of supplies.

Accompanying the aircrews and maintainers was a 4-person team from the 19th SFS, consisting of two Phoenix Ravens and two FAST members. The team is part of a little-known Air Force community of elite security commandos trained to protect aircraft and crews from enemy assaults while on the ground in dangerous locales.

While Peru isn’t considered a dangerous location, the flooding and landslides did create some unknowns the team had to plan for.

“We had been briefed that in the other countries affected, there were instances where people from the villages were trying to escape the devastation by trying to get onto the aircraft,” said Staff Sgt. Zachariah Main, 19th SFS FAST member. “It was hectic and busy, but our goal was to keep that as much under control as possible so that our people could get these supplies to the people who really needed them.”

The 19th SFS element prepared for the possibility of a similar situation in Peru. By studying the destruction caused by the flooding and the resulting landslides and loss of infrastructure, the team was able to develop a plan to safely protect the aircraft and personnel. They communicated with the local communities and assured them that the team was there to ensure the safe and organized distribution of supplies to those in need.

Their presence gave a sense of safety to all elements and allowed a buffer space for the loadmasters and aircrew to offload materials and to focus on assisting the Peruvian people, said Lt. Col. Douglas Buchholz, 19th Operations Support Squadron director of operations. “It was very humbling knowing what they’ve been through,” said Buchholz. “The fact that we can take those supplies to them on a daily basis and deliver supplies they so desperately need … is incredible.”

The team was also able to provide a translator.  Airman 1st Class Miguel Pinzon, a bi-lingual Phoenix Raven originally from Columbia, was able to translate the needs of the ground teams to officials at the three Peruvian airfields.

“There was a language barrier, so being able to communicate instructions between the forklift drivers and our loadmasters was very important to making sure the process went well,” said Pinzon. “I think I helped alleviate the confusion, which helped make things work more efficiently.”

Having a prepared security team available was one reason the Peru humanitarian assistance team did not experience the same challenges as humanitarian response teams working in other areas, Main said.

“We saw the flood damage which helped us understand better the mindset of the people on the ground,” Main said. “We developed how we would present ourselves so people understood we were there to help, first and foremost.”

Editor Note: This story was originally published April 26, 2017.