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Hurricane Felix assessment team arrives in Nicaragua

PUERTO CABEZAS, Nicaragua -- Army Capt. Jon-Paul Lavandeira (left) and Lt. Col. Gregory Jicha, both assigned to Joint Task Force-Bravo at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, greet Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega among a media frenzy after arriving at a small airfield here Sept. 5.  The Army officers are part of a 13-person task force that deployed here to assess damage from the storm.  US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs

PUERTO CABEZAS, Nicaragua -- Army Capt. Jon-Paul Lavandeira (left) and Lt. Col. Gregory Jicha, both assigned to Joint Task Force-Bravo at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, greet Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega among a media frenzy after arriving at a small airfield here Sept. 5. The Army officers are part of a 13-person task force that deployed here to assess damage from the storm. US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs

PUERTO CABEZAS, Nicaragua -- Army Lt. Col. Gregory Jicha, Army Forces commander at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, surveys damage in the wake of Hurricane Felix here Sept. 5.  Colonel Jicha is commander of a 13-person task force that deployed here to assess damage from the storm.  US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs

PUERTO CABEZAS, Nicaragua -- Army Lt. Col. Gregory Jicha, Army Forces commander at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, surveys damage in the wake of Hurricane Felix here Sept. 5. Colonel Jicha is commander of a 13-person task force that deployed here to assess damage from the storm. US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs

MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- Army Staff Sgt. Jose Virella, assigned to the 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, explains emergency aircraft procedures to members of the Nicaraguan National Police Special Brigade?s search and rescue team after landing here Sept. 5.  Sergeant Virella arrived with a hurricane assessment team following landfall of Hurricane Felix.  The 13-person team deployed to Nicaragua to assess the damage caused by the storm and to determine the extent of relief efforts needed in the country.  US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs

MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- Army Staff Sgt. Jose Virella, assigned to the 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, explains emergency aircraft procedures to members of the Nicaraguan National Police Special Brigade?s search and rescue team after landing here Sept. 5. Sergeant Virella arrived with a hurricane assessment team following landfall of Hurricane Felix. The 13-person team deployed to Nicaragua to assess the damage caused by the storm and to determine the extent of relief efforts needed in the country. US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs

OVER THE MOSQUITO COAST, Nicaragua -- Army Capt. Jon-Paul Lavandeira and Tech. Sgt. Heather Prater, both engineers assigned to Joint Task Force Bravo at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, take aerial video from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter here to document damage caused by Hurricane Felix.  The two service members are part of a 13-person task force deployed here for hurricane damage assessment.  The video system is an Automated Route Recon Kit, or ARRK, which allows video, still images and global positioning system coordinates to be transmitted back to U.S. Southern Command, Joint Task Force Bravo, and the American Embassy in Nicaragua.  U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs

OVER THE MOSQUITO COAST, Nicaragua -- Army Capt. Jon-Paul Lavandeira and Tech. Sgt. Heather Prater, both engineers assigned to Joint Task Force Bravo at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, take aerial video from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter here to document damage caused by Hurricane Felix. The two service members are part of a 13-person task force deployed here for hurricane damage assessment. The video system is an Automated Route Recon Kit, or ARRK, which allows video, still images and global positioning system coordinates to be transmitted back to U.S. Southern Command, Joint Task Force Bravo, and the American Embassy in Nicaragua. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs

PUERTO CABEZAS, Nicaragua ? Army Lt. Col. Gregory Jicha, commander of a 13-person task force here from Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, reviews a map with Army Lt. Col. Robert Gaddis, U.S. Military Group Nicaragua, and Ramon Arnesto, director of the Nicaraguan federal emergency management agency, SINAPRED, prior to a hurricane assessment flight over the areas of the country affected by Hurricane Felix.  U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs

PUERTO CABEZAS, Nicaragua ? Army Lt. Col. Gregory Jicha, commander of a 13-person task force here from Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, reviews a map with Army Lt. Col. Robert Gaddis, U.S. Military Group Nicaragua, and Ramon Arnesto, director of the Nicaraguan federal emergency management agency, SINAPRED, prior to a hurricane assessment flight over the areas of the country affected by Hurricane Felix. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs

PUERTO CABEZAS, Nicaragua -- A 13-person hurricane assessment team from Joint Task Force Bravo and the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) arrived here Sept. 5 to begin surveying the damage following landfall of Hurricane Felix.

The team deployed from Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, as soon as the weather allowed, and made a quick stop for fuel in the capital city of Managua. There, a military doctor and civil affairs officer remained behind to assist the American embassy in determining immediate needs of the country.

The CH-47 Chinook helicopter then transported the remaining members of the assessment team and ten members of the Nicaraguan National Police Special Brigade's search and rescue team to Puerto Cabezas.

Upon arrival in Puerto Cabezas, the assessment team was greeted by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who expressed his thanks for all of the efforts during his country's time of need.

Army Staff Sgt. Melvin Fleming, with the U.S. Embassy's Defense Attaché office in Managua, said reports came in that the northern coast had been hit badly.

"There have been initial reports of up to 80 percent damage to the infrastructure along the Atlantic Coast," he said. "There is no desperation, but they are asking for aid. They need our help in getting (the relief) there."

Sept. 6, the assessment team flew missions throughout the remote, northeast portion of the country to assess the actual damage sustained from the storm. Most of their flight was recorded with an Automated Route Recon Kit, or ARRK, captures video, still images and global positioning position coordinates to a laptop computer.

"Right now, we're just providing an assessment of the damage that was sustained," said Army Lt. Col. Gregory Jicha, commander of the task force here with the mission. "We will take the imagery from the AARK and provide it to the Embassy here, U.S. Southern Command headquarters, and back to Joint Task Force-Bravo for them to make the determination of what is needed in the region."

Colonel Jicha is currently visiting with the American Ambassador to Nicaragua to review the video and photos taken during the flight.

In addition to the civil affairs officer and doctor, the assessment team also has communications, engineers, command and control and a member of the U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, who will help coordinate the U.S. government's response to the humanitarian emergency. The assessment team is currently in a bare base environment, living in a makeshift camp just off the air strip where they landed.

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