167th Airlift Wing plays role in Haiti relief mission

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Sherree Grebenstein
  • 167th Airlift Wing
Airmen with the West Virginia Air National Guard's 167th Airlift Wing are working around-the-clock in an effort to get critical life-saving supplies into the hands of Haiti's earthquake victims.

The air base in Martinsburg, W.Va., was transformed Jan. 14 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 based out of Jackson, Miss., made the first flight out of the Martinsburg air base on the night of Jan. 14.

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.

Col. Roger L. Nye, commander of the 167th Airlift Wing, 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 its massive size.

"A C-5 would shut down the airfield at Port-au-Prince," Col. Nye said.

According to Jerry Hill, a logistics manager for HHS, the department in Frederick, Md., has a 180,000-square foot warehouse that houses emergency medical supplies.

"When disasters happen, DHHS 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, Hill knows the Wing's efficient reputation and capabilities.

"Within 12 hours we had trucks on site here (in Martinsburg)," he said.

"I expected great support from the unit and that is exactly what we got," Hill said. "When the flag goes up, these guys really shine."

Hill estimated that more than a million pounds of supplies will be flown from the base aboard aircraft destined for Haiti.

"The base was chosen to support this mission due to the ideal proximity to the National Capital Region," said Maj. Melissa Shade, chief of staff for the 167th Airlift Wing.

"Most recently emergency responders were staged at Martinsburg to support the 2009 Presidential Inauguration," she said. "Since the base began the transformation to house C-5's in 2002, the spacious hangars offer ideal conditions for these types of operations."

Col. 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 commander said Airmen from the unit may eventually be tasked to support the humanitarian efforts downrange too. 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 are currently involved with relief effort operations at the Martinsburg air base.

Col. Nye said the 167th Airlift Wing has a good working relationship with state and federal government agencies.

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.

The Airmen said his heart went 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."

Adding: "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 grueling 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.

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," Capt. Brohard said.

Many Airmen from the 167th Airlift Wing have contributed to the Global War on Terrorism since Sept. 11, 2001.