JBER sends humanitarian aid to Nepal

Wednesday, May 13, 2015 - 18:14
Capt. Matthew Lawton, 517th Airlift Squadron deputy readiness flight commander, and Capt. Brandon Ongna, 517th AS deputy standardization and evaluation flight commander, both C-17 Globemaster III pilots, run through a preflight checklist before departing on a humanitarian mission to Nepal May 1.

Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson sent the installation’s first round of humanitarian support to the people of Nepal affected by a recent 7.8 magnitude earthquake in the form of a C-17 Globemaster III and support personnel May 1.

The aircraft, from the 517th Airlift Squadron, carried a K Loader and a tire-changing kit, and first stopped in Guam to pick up a contingency response group before continuing to Kathmandu, Nepal.

Additionally, a C-17 from the 517th AS participating in exercise Balikatan in the Philippines began transferring Marine Corps UH-1Y Venom helicopters to help provide airlift support. More support packages from JBER are on standby to be sent as directed by the Department of State.

“The biggest priority is to get some command and control elements into country,” said Maj. Travis Kuenzi, 517th AS assistant director of operations. “Also important is getting helicopters there for vertical airlift due to the crowded airfields and rugged terrain.”

Initially, the helicopters will be aiding in search and rescue, Kuenzi said. They will be particularly useful as highways have been hard hit by the earthquake and it is hard to get supplies to the smaller villages.

The joint base’s efforts will assist Joint Task Force 505, already in place in Nepal. According to Air Force officials, the task force brings a variety of capabilities that will help the government of Nepal recover from the disaster as quickly as possible. The focus of support includes search and rescue, airborne SAR, medium helicopter lift support, medium-heavy tilt-rotor support, fixed-wing lift support, as well as medical and logistics enablers.

“It’s fairly typical from our perspective,” Kuenzi said. “We’re trained to go anywhere in the world moving pretty much any kind of cargo you would need. We do that every day. The difference here is the urgency of the situation.”

Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson officials said JBER service members stand ready and willing to help when called upon as the needs of the people of Nepal become clear and relief efforts are coordinated.

JBER units (mission partners such as the 3rd Wing, 517th AS, U.S. Army Alaska and Alaska Air National Guard) have a long history of support in humanitarian and disaster relief operations, locally and in the far corners of the globe. JBER pilots, crews, maintainers, logistics and medical personnel train every day to be ready to support when called upon.

One of the units ready to assist is the 673d Medical Group.

“We’re prepared to support Nepal and its people in any way we can,” said Senior Master Sgt. Nicholas Hoff, 673d Medical Support Squadron medical logistics superintendent. “The medical logistics flight has a variety of medical capabilities that can be deployed along with personnel packages. We can take anything from a small deployable clinic that can treat a certain amount of people for 30 days or we can send a critical care team that allows for transport of critically injured personnel in the air.”

The 673d MDSS support elements are structured modularly, allowing them to take equipment packages from one installation and pair it with personnel packages from another installation.

“It gives flexibility and a large scope of expandability to whatever the mission dictates,” Hoff said. “There’s an almost endless amount of support we can give and my people are very proud and excited to help out the people of Nepal.”

The spirit of caring and support was a common theme for personnel involved in the initial support provided to Nepal.

“Even though Alaska is a large community, it’s close-knit so it provides some perspective when helping others out all the way across the world,” said Staff Sgt. Alyse Denittis, 517th AS C-17 loadmaster. “Someone doesn’t have to be physically close to you for you to feel a desire to reach out. It’s very rewarding for me. Giving our help when needed, that’s what the U.S. Air Force does.”

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