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Hawaii-based aircrews make a difference in Haiti

A Coast Guard C-130 from Air Station Barbers Point, Hawaii, offloads 20,000 pounds of baby formula, water and diapers in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, Jan. 22, 2010. The aircrew then loaded 65 U.S. citizens onto the plane and brought them to Homestead, Fla. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. Andrew Paszkiewicz)

Special to Hawaii 24/7 by Petty Officer 3rd Class Angela Henderson

Honolulu – The 7.0 magnitude earthquake that shook Haiti Jan. 12, 2010, caused thousands of buildings to collapse in Port-au-Prince, trapping untold numbers, killing many and leaving more than one million people homeless. The quake was the worst in the region in more than 200 years.

According to the American Red Cross, the Haiti relief operation involved more emergency response teams than any other single-country disaster in global history; more than $67 million has been sent to meet the most urgent needs of earthquake survivors in Haiti.

More than 3 million pre-packaged meals were delivered by boat and aircraft to survivors, and more than 800,000 gallons of water were distributed. Shelter items, such as blankets, tarps, sleeping mats, and tents were also provided to families left homeless.

During the response to this major natural disaster, more than 30 nations, hundreds of non-governmental organizations, and more than 13,000 military personnel came to offer assistance.

From the thousands that responded, the U.S. Coast Guard sent more than 1,000 members from a variety of units. Of the nine cutters and 28 aircraft sent during the relief efforts, 14 Coast Guard aircrew members from Air Station Barbers Point in Hawaii traveled more than 5,400 miles to join the multi-agency relief support in Port-au-Prince.

The Hawaii-based aircrews flew an HC-130 Hercules aircraft more than 14 hours to assist in air surveillance assessments, transporting medical and security personnel, relief supplies and evacuees.

“I’m just grateful that we were able to extend a helping hand in the Haiti relief efforts,” said Lt. Andrew Paszkiewicz, a Hercules pilot. “Just four months ago we helped in the tsunami response efforts in American Samoa; that’s why I joined the Coast Guard — to have the chance to help those in need and make a difference.”

With only three Hercules and four HH-65 Dolphin helicopters at Air Station Barbers Point, aircrews stood ready to help in any mission that came their way.

“It’s amazing that our air crews serve in such far flung places and that they were literally on opposite sides of the earth on the same day,” said Capt. Anthony Vogt, the air station’s commanding officer, “and yet we were still ready to assist the residents of Hawaii in the event of an emergency here at home in the islands.”

Days after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the Department of State was establishing a joint task force with the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services to streamline the process of adoptions, and to ensure that these families are united as quickly as possible, the air station crew flew 20 Haitian orphans to Homestead, Fla.

“If someone were to ask me about the earthquake that shook Haiti, the image that comes to mind are the orphans we flew back to south Florida,” said Paszkiewicz. “They were so tiny, so vulnerable, so quiet. Many were in wheelchairs or had limbs that had been crushed.”

The two crews completed 29 missions to and from Haiti and transported more than 120 relief personnel, 20 orphans and evacuated more than 200 injured from Port-au-Prince, and flew approximately 100 hours to support relief efforts.

Once the word was out about the earthquake, Coast Guardsmen were the first ‘boots on the ground,’ and paved the way for a joint task force of military and volunteer members. As soon as supplies became available, aircraft and vessels gave the highest priority to the shipment of water and medical supplies.

“Every flight involved hundreds of people helping load supplies and making sure we were within weight standards, carrying as much as and as many people as possible,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Burgess, an air station maintenance technician. “Every flight consisted of at least 20,000 pounds of relief supplies, gear, humanitarian assistance personnel, and evacuees.”

“We’re often known as the first responders in these tragic events,” said Paszkiewicz. “In this case, every crewmember fulfilled the ‘Always Ready’ motto by putting people and cargo on time and on target.”

“Because of the type of aircraft we fly, the missions we perform rarely allow us to be in physical contact with those we help,” said Paszkiewicz. “Seeing and hearing the appreciation in the people we helped made all the endless flight hours and no sleep more than worth it.”

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