Tennessee Air National Guard tasked to help Haiti Relief Efforts
By Staff Sgt. Robin Olsen, JFHQ
/ Published February 04, 2010
NASHVILLE, TENN. -- A Tennessee Air National Guard team of 30 personnel departed for Haiti Jan. 27 for a period of 90 to 120 days. A second, 10-man team left Jan. 28 for 30 days.
The first team consisted of 24 Airmen from Nashville's 118th Airlift Wing Civil Engineering Squadron, and six Airmen from Knoxville's 134th Air Refueling Wing Civil Engineering Squadron. The second group was made of Airmen from the 118th's Aero Medical Evacuation Squadron. Both teams departed by commercial aircraft to Charleston, S.C. From there, they went to Haiti.
The National Guard engineers will construct disaster relief facilities at the airport in Haiti, plus two additional "tent cities" that can hold up to 550 people each. The CE Squadron will also be tasked with making repairs to the airport pavements in Haiti.
This was not Tennessee's first trip to help in Haiti. Members of the 118th Airlift Wing also previously took part in a separate humanitarian mission to Haiti that took place Jan. 19.
Two C-130 airplanes landed at Homestead Air Reserve Station in Florida with both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals from Haiti onboard.
Major Tim Heichel, a 118th AW pilot who flew one of the aircraft, said Port-au-Prince was chaotic. "Flying in, you could see that the terminal had a lot of cracks in it, but it was still safe," he said.
"You can see most of the damage on the approach to land," said Maj. Alan Smith, navigator for Heichel's flight to Haiti.
The aircrews did not leave the airport property. "There is a lot of traffic trying to get in there and a lot of traffic trying to get out," he said.
On the way, they stopped at Pope Air Force base in North Carolina to pick up Soldiers and two Humvees that will be staying in Haiti for a while to help the recovery efforts. They also had to make sure they had enough fuel to get into Haiti and back to the United States without needing to refuel because Haiti was not in the position to support fueling operations at the Airport.
"There were no designated parking spots. They just park you as close as you can tolerate to another airplane," Heichel recalled.
Heichel said there wasn't a good system in place yet, but Air Traffic Control was doing the best they could, even working against a language barrior and high terrain. "A lot of things are working against you."
When they first arrived, they expected to offload the Soldiers and equipment and then immediately load a group of people, but this was delayed because of the lengthy process the people from Haiti had to go through of checking IDs and being processed by U.S. Customs and Border Control, Heichel said.
The aircraft Heichel piloted returned over 60 people to the United States. "A lot of children were on our flight."
"Everyday life we take for granted. We have stuff they just don't have in Haiti," said Smith.
"It is rewarding to us to go and do something to help the people in Haiti," said Heichel.
The 118th has also participated in missions to help Rawanda and the victims of Hurricane Katrina.