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AFSOUTH guides Air Force Haiti relief effort

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Eric Petosky
  • 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Public Affairs
Over the last two weeks, heart-wrenching stories from Haiti of earthquake survivors, rescue crews, and medical volunteers have been broadcast worldwide -- amazing accounts of perseverance, compassion and commitment.

The U.S. Air Force has an integral role in the relief effort, from reopening the Toussaint L'Ouverture Airport in Port-au-Prince, and dedicating hundreds of hours of flight time to airlift aid into Haiti, to maximizing efficiency of airfield operations and providing emergency medical care to Haitian citizens in need. Airmen from across the United States are participating in Operation Unified Response, the joint relief effort from the United States, while the quiet professionals of Air Forces Southern guide the effort from hundreds of miles away in the Arizona desert.

As soon as the earthquake struck, AFSOUTH planners started collecting information to formulate a way to best utilize 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, AFSOUTH functional staff immediately transferred to around-the-clock operations, combining the knowledge and skills across the spectrum of Air Force specialties to determine how best to support Operation Unified Response.

"The primary duties of the AFSOUTH staff here is to deploy, sustain, and eventually redeploy Air Force forces assigned to Joint Task Force - Haiti," said Col. Bryan Bearden, AFSOUTH director of operations and plans. "We have to get the right people, equipment and supplies, in the right 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; hundreds more are expected in the coming days. The initial Air Force response included special tactics teams from Hurlburt Field, Fla., who not only restored air traffic control at the airport, but also 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 will replace those contingency response units with regular Air Force units, which 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 A1 directorate is responsible for personnel and services, which includes not only validating, tasking and tracking the Airmen who have deployed, but also providing food and water as well. The complicated process involves coordination with many different agencies, but A1 is getting the job done, said Maj. Sherard Dorroh, 12th Air Force (AFSOUTH), 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 the A4 and A7 functional areas at AFSOUTH, logisticians in a variety of specialties make sure the forces, supplies and equipment necessary 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, A4/A7 deputy director. Basically, everything that is needed to run an air base in the United States is needed in Haiti, and other support locations. A4 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, the Air Force has 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, pointing out 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."

Personnel and services specialists and logisticians make up only a portion of the multitude of disciplines on the AFSOUTH staff. The logisticians have to react to the day's needs and look to the future to forecast the needs a month from now; the intelligence specialists provide aerial imagery to military and civilian leadership; the personnelists put the right people in the right spot at the right time; and the men and women at the Air Operations Center manage the flow of up to 150 aircraft a day into Port-au-Prince. Functional experts from intelligence, operations, communications, assessments, legal, and force protection all play an important role in planning and decision-making that have a direct impact on relief efforts, Colonel Bearden said. More than 125 Airmen and civilians 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."