By Air Force Staff Sgt. Stacia Zachary
Special to American Forces Press Service
May 20, 2009 - The kind of fast-action, humanitarian outreach used this week to help more than a million Pakistanis displaced by war is exactly the type of mission the Air Force's 3rd Airlift Squadron was glad to take on, airmen in the unit said. "It's got a different aspect to it than our other missions," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Christopher Williams, a C-17 loadmaster deployed from the 3rd AS, Dover Air Force Base, Del. "Instead of bringing bullets and ammo, we're bringing supplies and hope to people affected by war. It's one of the reasons why I joined the military - to help others in any situation."
In response to requests from the Pakistani government, the Defense Department arranged for the rapid delivery of humanitarian assistance for the estimated 1.7 million Pakistanis displaced by Pakistan's military operations against violent extremists in the country's northwestern provinces.
The initial request includes 120,000 packaged meals that conform with Islamic dietary requirements, air-conditioned tents, electrical generators, water trucks and other items, in addition to food, logistical support and funding totaling $110 million being provided by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
In just a few days, the humanitarian mission was set in motion, calling for a rapid assembly of aircraft, crews, supplies and logistics coordination.
"The speed with which this mission came together attests to the rapid, global mobility assets available for wartime and humanitarian missions," said Air Force Capt. Ryan Theiss, a C-17 Globemaster III pilot deployed from the 3rd AS. "Without airlift, humanitarian relief wouldn't be possible."
Of the airlift assets available for this mission, the C-17 Globemaster III was chosen because it is better suited for providing a rapid influx of materials into an area with fewer sorties than would be required with a smaller aircraft.
"The C-17's storage capacity is superior to other aircraft, because it can carry up to 18 pallets and get them into austere environments," Theiss said. "It will take fewer missions to do what a C-130 can and get the mission completed faster with fewer assets."
With continuous training, the crews are well suited to working quickly and in austere conditions.
"When you get to a place, you have to anticipate problems and figure out how to fix them," Williams said. "The offload can present difficulties because of the language barrier or because there isn't the right equipment. You just keep plugging away until the mission is done."
Theiss added that the morale factor is a key element of the effort. "Humanitarian relief missions help with morale," he said. "We're winning the hearts and minds of the world just by lending a hand. We're able to show the world that we're out here to help."
(Air Force Staff Sgt. Stacia Zachary serves with Air Force Central Command's Combat Camera Team.)