Airmen show commitment to Pacific in relief efforts

HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii -- Typhoons. Tropical storms. Earthquakes. Volcanic eruptions. Oh, and don't forget the tsunami.

All of these environmental events struck the Asia-Pacific region from Sept. 26 to Oct. 7--15 major incidents, depending on how you count them. Considering I assumed command of 13th Air Force on Sept. 2, it has been quite a welcome to the Pacific Air Forces area of responsibility.

It has also been a fitting one. This theater is fraught with challenges. From the "perfect storm" of natural calamities mentioned above, to the immense size and diversity of the Asia-Pacific region, the men and women of Pacific Air Forces definitely have their work cut out for them.

Time and again, our Airmen have stepped up and met those challenges head on. This fact was never more evident than in the Air Force's heroic response to these environmental events, beginning Sept. 29 when a tsunami struck American Samoa.

The effort to help our fellow Americans there, which began with the launch of two C-17 Globemaster IIIs the very next day, was indicative of the teamwork and dedication seen daily throughout this region. Not only was it a joint operation--it was also an interagency and total force one.

By its end, Airmen flew 17 C-17 sorties, 212 passengers and 632.5 short tons of cargo to American Samoa as part of the larger Federal Emergency Management Agency and Joint Task Force-Homeland Defense effort.

They delivered much needed food, medicine, tents, generators and vehicles, as well as FEMA and Red Cross volunteers and U.S. servicemembers from across the total force. Perhaps more importantly, they also delivered hope in the face of despair.

PACAF's ability to quickly deliver a helping hand anywhere in the vast Pacific theater would soon be called upon again. The same day the first set of C-17s left for American Samoa on Sept. 30, Padang and the surrounding areas in Indonesia were devastated by an earthquake and several strong aftershocks.

This time it was PACAF's Humanitarian Assistance Rapid Response Team that would deploy. By Oct. 5, the team's medical and contingency response experts from the 36th Wing at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam; 3rd Wing at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska; 374th Airlift Wing at Yokota Air Base, Japan; and 13th Air Force here were on their way to Padang.

Hickam- and Elmendorf-based C-17s delivered the team that same day, and within 10 hours the Airmen had set up a field hospital to treat those suffering amid the earthquake's devastation. By the time the HARRT redeployed on Oct. 16, they had treated more than 1,900 Indonesian patients.

Did I mention that this HARRT capability, that did so much to help the medical professionals of Indonesia care for their people, had its first operational field test just 22 days prior to the earthquake? The efforts of our PACAF men and women to field this new concept when it really counted were simply remarkable.

Through the HARRT deployment, our Airmen turned the words of our nation's leaders into action. Credibility counts when it comes to building partnerships with other nations, and people throughout the Asia-Pacific region saw through the disaster relief efforts of our U.S. servicemembers that statements on our commitment to this region are not mere words. They are a sworn promise.

As 13th Air Force commander, I have the privilege of watching the amazing things our Airmen do every day throughout PACAF's theater. We may plan, command and control the operations from here at Hickam, but it is the Airmen throughout the command and across our Air Force who make the mission happen every day.

Whether it's a conflagration of storms or an armed threat to security, our Airmen stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our friends and allies in the region to keep the peace. I've seen our men and women do some exceptional things in just a few months on the job, and I can't wait to see what the future holds.