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AFSOUTH planners put ‘boots on ground’ for Chile Earthquake relief

DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- Planners from 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) immediately went into action to plan missions and deploy Airmen to conduct relief operations in Chile after an 8.8 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami struck Feb. 27.

The earthquake rendered existing medical facilities in the area unsafe or without power, so the Chilean Government requested medical and airlift assistance from the United States, a longstanding partner in humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

In response to the request, the AFSOUTH battle staff group, already working around-the-clock to support earthquake relief in Haiti, quickly deployed a team of 84 Airmen, including 68 medics, to Chile Mar. 9. The team completed construction of a field hospital in the city of Angol, southeast of Concepcion, an area that suffered considerable damage from the earthquake. The field hospital is now operational, enabling the Air Force Expeditionary Medical Support (EMEDS) team to provide surgical, primary care, pediatric, radiological, gynecological, laboratory, pharmaceutical and dental services. The Airmen will work alongside Chilean civilian medics during their deployment.

"EMEDS are prepackaged units that we can send to areas depending on the medical needs that exist," said SSgt. Melida Castano, the NCOIC of medical administration with the 12th AF Surgeon General's office. "With the base operating support provided by our Chilean counterparts, we were able to provide the EMEDS support within 72 hours. The success of this mission was also made possible with the many mil-to-mil engagements that we have had with Chile," added MSgt Jesse Moreno, the Superintendent of the International Health Specialist Team with the Surgeon General's office.

The Air Force response is part of a larger interagency U.S. response by U.S. Southern Command and U.S. Agency for International Development. As the headquarters responsible for U.S. military operations in South America, Central America and the Caribbean, SOUTHCOM leads all U.S. military relief support to nations in the region. Since 2005, the command has led U.S. military support to 15 major relief missions, including assistance to Haiti following a 7.0 magnitude earthquake Jan. 12.

The humanitarian response to Haiti was the crucible which honed the skills necessary to deploy forces to Chile as quickly as possible, according to Lt. Col. David Poage, 12th AF A3/A5 deputy. He emphasized how important coordination with all agencies involved was to the swift response of Airmen and Air Force aircraft.

"AFSOUTH synchronized right away with the director of mobility forces, U.S. Southern Command, the government of Chile, and the military group down in Santiago to coordinate missions," Colonel Poage said. "The learning curve for Haiti relief operations was almost vertical, because we didn't know what to expect. Through parallel planning, and constantly sharing information, we tailored the EMEDS and accompanying force support package to get out of town quickly and operate with the smallest footprint."

Air Mobility Command C-17 Globemaster III aircraft transported the medical personnel and 67 tons of medical equipment from Kelly Field, Texas, to Chile under the direction of the 618th Tanker Airlift Control Center at Scott AFB, Ill. The aircraft also delivered another 25 tons of material handling equipment, such as forklifts, to help unload the aircraft. The first two AMC missions were flown by crews from 62nd Airlift Wing at McChord Air Force Base, Wash., and a third was flown by Airmen from the 437th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Charleston, S.C.

Additionally, two Air Force C-130 Hercules and a team of about 50 Airmen from the 139th Airlift Wing of the Missouri Air National Guard arrived in Santiago Mar. 6 to support and augment a Chilean Air Force-led airlift relief operation delivering aid to affected communities near the earthquake's epicenter. The C-130 is equipped to land in austere locations on rough airstrips, and can transport up to 42,000 pounds of cargo.

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