Saturday, January 16, 2010

Ohio Guard Pilot Describes Scene in Haiti

By Army Spc. Darron Salzer
Special to American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Jan. 15, 2010 - An Ohio Air National Guard C-130 pilot who flew into the Haiti airport the day after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck said he was surprised by the condition of the runway and how quickly it had been improved.

"When we went in, we expected there to be worse conditions at the airport, but by the time we got there, all communication, navigation and lighting systems were up and running," said Air Force Lt. Col. William Baulkmon, an aircraft commander from the 179th Airlift Wing, based in Mansfield, Ohio.

Late on Jan. 13, members of the wing flew two C-130 aircraft into Haiti with support personnel and equipment.

"We brought in basic cargo such as communication equipment, and servicemembers from the various services to accompany that equipment," Baulkmon said. "More than likely, we will continue to provide this type of support."

About 45 members of the 179th have been deployed to Puerto Rico since Dec. 26 and were diverted to earthquake relief efforts. They joined forces with two C-130s from the 156th Airlift Wing of the Puerto Rico National Guard, based at Luis Muniz-Marin International Airport in San Juan.

"We were really surprised at how well the airport was set up as we came in," Baulkmon said. "We expected the facility itself to be more degraded, but as soon as we landed, they started to off-load us, and we were back on our way to Puerto Rico in less than an hour."

The 179th air crews will be on alert, which means that they will be called upon at any time in the next few days to fly more of these missions.

"We don't know what the future's going to hold, so we're going to be ready at a moment's notice," Baulkmon said. "We were honored to be one of the first crews to go into Haiti to provide the aid that the people desperately need. We've always been willing and able to volunteer and be on the tip of the spear, and this is just a testament to the preparedness and training of our crews."

In addition to the 179th, several other Air Guard units have been called up to support the relief effort.

The 167th Airlift Wing, based in Martinsburg, W.V., began hosting a staging area yesterday for life-saving supplies bound for Haiti. The unit also has alerted two aeromedical evacuation crews for possible deployment to Haiti. These crews assess, treat and transport critically wounded patients.

The 167th wing members responsible for palletizing and loading the supplies on a Mississippi Air National Guard C-17 Globemaster III aircraft had returned only hours earlier from a week-long deployment to Gulfport, Miss. The C-17s and crews are part of the 172nd Airlift Wing based at Thompson Field in Flowood, Miss.

"When tragedy strikes, our soldiers and airmen always come to the front, regardless of the situation," said Army Maj. Gen. William L. Freeman Jr., Mississippi's adjutant general. "Our people and our assets will be standing by for any other recovery support that may be required."

The 193rd Special Operations Wing, based in Harrisburg, Pa., deployed three aircraft today, including an EC-130J Commando Solo with 12 support personnel. The aircraft is a specially modified four-engine Hercules transport that conducts information operations, psychological operations and civil affairs broadcasts in AM, FM, HF, TV and military communications bands.

In 1994, Commando Solo was used to transmit messages to the citizens and leaders of Haiti during Operation Uphold Democracy. Then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was featured in these broadcasts, which contributed to the orderly transition from military rule to democracy.

Air Guard civil engineers from Kansas and New York are currently deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they are assessing personnel and equipment for providing disaster relief response from the U.S. naval base.

As part of their annual two-week training requirement, the engineers originally were scheduled to assist with several base construction projects. The earthquake changed all that.

"This is what we do, and it is an honor to be called upon to support this," said Air Force Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting, Kansas adjutant general. "Our Guardsmen are prepared to do whatever is necessary to help the victims in Haiti."

Finally, National Guard officials from Kentucky and Texas are standing by to help victims of the earthquake in Haiti.

"We have offered our airlift, search-and-rescue, and emergency medical capabilities and resources, but we have not received any official tasking to provide aid at this time," said Air Force Brig. Gen. Mike Richie, deputy adjutant general for Kentucky. "Meanwhile, we will continue to assess our resources and prepare for the call to duty."

"The crisis in Haiti is a tragedy of epic proportions," said Army Maj. Gen. Jose S. Mayorga, the Texas adjutant general. "It is the right and moral thing to provide whatever assistance is necessary to prevent further loss of life."

(Army Spc. Darron Salzer serves at the National Guard Bureau.)

Related Sites: Special Report: Haiti Earthquake Relief & National Guard Bureau

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