Friday, January 15, 2010

West Virginia Air Guard Operates Staging Area

By Air Force Staff Sgt. Sherree Grebenstein, Special to American Forces Press Service

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.- Airmen with the West Virginia Air National Guard's 167th Airlift Wing are working around the clock here in an effort to get critical life-saving supplies to Haiti's earthquake victims.

The air base was transformed yesterday into a staging area for more than 332,000 pounds of supplies bound for the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Hundreds of thousands of pounds more are expected to be palletized at the air base for shipment to Haiti in the coming days. A C-17 Globemaster III from the Mississippi Air National Guard made the first flight out of the Martinsburg air base last night.

Sixteen tractor-trailers and eight box trucks ordered by the Department of Health and Human Services brought the critical cargo to the 167th Airlift Wing to be loaded onto aircraft bound for Haiti's capital. The trucks were loaded with medical supplies and equipment, generators, air-conditioning units, tents, food and water.

Air Force Col. Roger L. Nye, 167th Airlift Wing commander, said the C-5 Galaxy aircraft stationed at the base in Martinsburg aren't being used to fly the supplies and equipment to Haiti due to the transport jet's massive size. "A C-5 would shut down the airfield at Port-au-Prince," he said.

Jerry Hill, a Health and Human Services logistics manager, has a 180,000-square foot warehouse that houses emergency medical supplies. "When disasters happen, [the department] is responsible for getting critical assets to the medical professionals in the field," he said.

When it came to finding a location to stage operations for the massive humanitarian airlift, Hill didn't have to look far. As the deployment officer for the 167th Airlift Wing's aeromedical evacuation squadron, Hillknows the wing's efficient reputation and capabilities.

"Within 12 hours, we had trucks on site here," he said. "I expected great support from the unit, and that is exactly what we got. When the flag goes up, these guys really shine."

Hill estimated that more than a million pounds of supplies will be flown to Haiti from the base.

"The base was chosen to support this mission due to the ideal proximity to the national capital region," said Air Force Maj. Melissa Shade, 167th Airlift Wing chief of staff. "Most recently, emergency responders were staged at Martinsburg to support the 2009 presidential inauguration. Since the base began the transformation to house C-5s in 2002, the spacious hangars offer ideal conditions for these types of operations."

Nye lauded the efforts of his unit's airmen as they worked in tandem to ensure that critical supplies were loaded onto aircraft as quickly as possible for the desperate earthquake victims in Haiti.

The colonel said airmen from the unit eventually may be tasked to support the humanitarian efforts downrange as well. The 167th Airlift Wing has alerted two aeromedical evacuation crews for possible deployment to Haiti. These crews will assess, treat and transport critically wounded patients.

About 700 airmen currently are involved with relief effort operations at the Martinsburg air base.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Chris Crowell, a cargo specialist with the wing's Logistics readiness squadron, said he is proud to serve on his first humanitarian mission by helping to palletize supplies for aircraft waiting on the base's runway.

"'Mountaineer Pride Worldwide' is our motto," he said of the West Virginia Air National Guard.

Crowell said his heart goes out to the earthquake victims. "I know they didn't have that much to begin with," he said. "We'll try to do what we can to help. It will be worth it in the end."

Many 167th Airlift Wing members responsible for palletizing and loading the supplies on the Mississippi Air National Guard C-17 aircraft had just returned from a week-long deployment to Gulfport, Miss. More than 400 of the base's airmen were in Mississippi to complete an operational
readiness exercise, which is a test of a unit's ability to prepare its members for overseas deployments.

Air Force Capt. Bill Brohard, officer in charge of the wing's small air terminal, said the real-world humanitarian mission allows airmen to test their mettle.

"We're hoping to put our skills to good use," he said.

(Air Force Staff Sgt. Sherree Grebenstein serves with the West Virginia National Guard. Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Cadle, state public affairs officer for the West Virginia National Guard, contributed to this story.)