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Air Forces Southern marks major milestones in Unified Response

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Eric Petosky
  • 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Public Affairs
Air Forces Southern successfully evacuated 1,521 people from Port au Prince Jan. 18, effectively doubling the cumulative evacuations of the previous five days from the earthquake ravaged country of Haiti.
More than 1,200 of those evacuated were U.S. citizens.

"One of our mobility experts recommended floor loading C-17s to maximize the amount of people we could evacuate," said Col. Mark Koechle, 612th Air Operations Center commander here. "Floor loading allows for 200 passengers per flight, which made a huge difference. That's what it's all about - maximizing our airlift to help as many people as possible. I'm tremendously proud of the ingenuity and dedication of the Airmen who made this possible."

The rise in airlift efficiency was just one milestone in the 24-hour a day mission to bring relief to earthquake survivors. Earlier in the day, a C-17 Globemaster III from Charleston Air Force Base, N.C., carried out the first air delivery of 14,000 quarts of water, and 14,000 meals-ready-to-eat. The food and water was then distributed to Haitian citizens who have been without many basic necessities since the massive 7.0 earthquake destroyed much of the country's infrastructure Jan. 12. The successful air delivery could pave the way for more aid being delivered this way.

The Air Force effort to provide relief is part of a larger worldwide effort. All branches of the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Agency for International Development, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and many more non-governmental organizations are desperately trying to get help to where it's needed most. There are 18 countries participating in the relief effort so far.

Air Forces Southern, the air component to U.S. Southern Command, has been working diligently to try and expand the airlift capacity in Haiti. The Haiti Flight Operations Coordination Center was established to assign flight "slots" to military and civilian flights into Port au Prince, and a command and control team of experts from Air Forces Southern deployed to establish an air expeditionary group on the island.

Colonel Koechle said that maximizing airlift efficiency is a top priority; however airfield limitations inherent in only having one operational airfield will limit further expansion. To this end, the 612th AOC, part of Air Forces Southern, is providing imagery and other support to the Canadian armed forces to try and open another airfield in the coastal city of Jacmel. Another initiative being considered is airlifting supplies to locations in the Dominican Republic, and then transporting aid to Haiti via trucks.