WASHINGTON, July 21, 2006 – Air Force C-17 Globemaster III crews assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron operating in Southwest Asia have added another mission to their resume, providing humanitarian civil assistance to the effort to evacuate Americans from Lebanon. Airlift operations have responded quickly to the urgent needs in the Middle East, supporting U.S. citizens evacuating from Lebanon to Cyprus, U.S. Central Command Air Forces officials said.
The 816th EAS is flying water and meals, as well as essential personnel and equipment, to Royal Air Force Base Akrotiri on the island of Cyprus. In the first four days of the operation, the squadron has flown 23 sorties, logging almost 70 hours in the sky, transporting nearly 200 passengers and 500 short tons of humanitarian supplies. "The importance of the mission and use of C-17s is huge," said Maj. Steve Jacque, aircraft commander on a July 19 mission. "You have thousands of Americans displaced from their homes, basically. I don't know how much time they had to get things squared away, but since they need the basics like food and water, I assume not much time at all."
Marines are taking the Americans to where Navy Seabees are building a temporary camp for them in Cyprus. To support that, the 816th flew in the Seabees, pallets of water and meals for the evacuees, said Jacque, who's also flown humanitarian operations for Hurricane Katrina and the Pakistani earthquake relief efforts in 2005. "Having shelter is a huge need, but we are helping them with the food and water as well," said the major. "I can't imagine being forced to leave my home for the threat of a war. Hopefully we have made that displacement just a little easier."
Each member of the augmented crew (three pilots and two loadmasters), as well as the passengers of the flight said they were glad to be able to help out fellow Americans. "It's a huge honor and a unique perk of this job that you can see something on the TV one day and be directly involved in it the next day," said loadmaster Airman 1st Class James Davis. "How many people can say that? It's a huge privilege for me to be able to go to work and directly effect world events. Anything I can do to help out fellow Americans in need, I'll be happy to."
Aside from their willingness to help, they say it is also a testament to the ability of the squadron and the aircraft as well. "This is the first time I've done a mission like this," said Capt. Matt Oberson, one of the pilots. "I don't want to say we're lucky - it'd be better off if none of us had to - but it's a privilege to get out there and try to make an impact delivering the supplies the folks in Cyprus need."
The crew took off from their deployed location to making one stop to upload the humanitarian supply pallets to take to Cyprus. Upon arrival, the anxious crew discovered they had beaten the cargo to their intermittent stop. After several hours of waiting and uploading time, the crew and their cargo were in the air and en route to Cyprus. "It wasn't just a load of pallets we had to get from here to there. There was a definite purpose for what was in the back, and it's good to know it was going to people who needed it," said 1st Lt. Justin West, another of the three pilots.
"It's a good illustration to show how quick we had to move," said Jacque. "We were notified the same time as they started gathering the food and water and notified the Seabees." Moving fast and getting the job done is not something new to the C-17 crews, though. United States and coalition air forces are flying every day in southwest Asia to provide safety, security and supplies throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, along with helping to provide regional stability for the Horn of Africa.
The squadron, whose motto is "Anything-Anytime-Anywhere," employs roughly a dozen C-17s to airlift troops and airdrop supplies throughout the theater in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. "I also think it is complete validation for what the C-17 was purchased for," said Oberson. "We've been doing airdrops throughout the theater, flying re-supply missions and landing on dirt airfields and now add humanitarian relief. I think the crews have been able to switch gears pretty quickly with an airdrop one day, dirt landing the next and humanitarian relief the next. This is a very versatile squadron."
"Everything we airlift helps people in need, whether it's soldiers or civilians, and it's not always food and water. We also move essential ground supplies," said Davis. "When it is food and water, it may not seem as important as some other supplies, but it's very important if you're the one who needs it. People in trouble are the same regardless of the country. Whether it's delivering supplies to evacuees or airlifting supplies to the soldiers in Afghanistan, I'm happy to be able to serve."