Thursday, January 28, 2010

AFSOUTH officials guide Air Force Haiti relief effort

by Tech. Sgt. Eric Petosky, 12th Air Force Public Affairs

DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. (AFNS) -- Airmen from across the United States are participating in the Haitian earthquake joint relief effort while the as Air Forces Southern members guide the effort from hundreds of miles away in the Arizona desert.

Air Force officials have an integral role in the relief efforts, from reopening the Toussaint L'Ouverture Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and dedicating hundreds of hours of flight time to airlift aid into Haiti, to help maximize efficiency of airfield operations and providing emergency medical care to Haitian citizens in need.

As soon as the earthquake struck, AFSOUTH planners started collecting information to formulate a way to best use Air Force assets. As the air component to U.S. Southern Command, the combatant command responsible for Central America, South America and much of the Caribbean including Haiti, the AFSOUTH functional staff immediately implemented around-the-clock operations to determine how best to support Operation Unified Response.

"The primary duties of the AFSOUTH staff here are to deploy, sustain and eventually redeploy Air Force forces assigned to Joint Task Force-Haiti," said Col. Bryan Bearden, the AFSOUTH director of operations and plans. "We have to get the right people, equipment and supplies, in right the place, at the right time, to support the men and women on the ground. Within the two-week period that has passed since the earthquake, AFSOUTH has moved mountains to support Haiti and the international community to bring supplies in. We'll continue doing that, while sustaining the forces down there with supplies of their own."

More than 600 Airmen are currently participating in Operation Unified Response in Haiti.The initial Air Force response included special tactics teams from Hurlburt Field, Fla., who helped restore air traffic control at the airport and participated in search and rescue missions. In addition, Airmen from the 621st Contingency Response Group at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., deployed to manage airfield operations as relief flights started arriving from all over the world.

As the operation progresses, AFSOUTH officials will replace those contingency response units with regular Air Force units, that requires a great deal of planning and coordination, Colonel Bearden said. The expertise of people serving in various functional areas is key to keeping the flow of Airmen, supplies and equipment constant.

For example, the personnel and services directorate is responsible for validating, tasking and tracking the Airmen who have deployed, but also providing food and water. The complicated process involves coordination with many different agencies, but the staff is getting the job done, said Maj. Sherard Dorroh, the 12th Air Force headquarter squadron section commander.

"We are no-kidding putting boots on the ground," Major Dorroh said. "It has been a bittersweet success, though, because it comes on the heels of what happened to the people of Haiti. But, what we do puts people in a position to provide relief to the Haitian people. That's our motivation; we have to get our stuff done right."

In logistics and installations and mission support functional areas at AFSOUTH, logisticians in a variety of specialties make sure the forces, supplies and necessary equipment arrive in Haiti and can be sustained. A major function of the logistics section is synchronizing movement of Air Force assets with other service components.

Since airlift has been the primary means of delivering relief supplies, the order in which things arrive has to be logical and efficient, said Lt. Col. Konrad Cote, logistics and installations and mission support deputy director.

The logistics staff has worked on everything imaginable, from establishing a tent city capable of housing 1,250 Airmen, to moving firefighting equipment, security forces and even ambulances. In total, Air Force officials have moved 8,376 short tons of cargo and delivered 6,145 passengers to Haiti.

"The logistics planning process in a very dynamic and unsure environment has been our greatest success and also our greatest challenge," said Colonel Cote, noting that being able to establish an air expeditionary group in two weeks is a great accomplishment. "I'm blessed to work with 30 highly skilled, highly motivated professionals."

More than 125 Airmen and civilians from six Air Force specialties at AFSOUTH are actively involved in planning Air Force relief efforts for Operation Unified Response.

"I'm continually impressed with the ability of our Airmen to perform under pressure and the capability our Air Force brings to the joint and international community responding to this crisis," he said. "Our team has performed magnificently thus far. There is still a lot of work to do and I have no doubt the men and women of this headquarters are still up for that challenge."