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Operation Iraqi Freedom / Operation Enduring Freedom
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. John Metcalf, a C-130H Hercules loadmaster assigned to the 746th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, backs cargo off the aircraft in support humanitarian relief efforts in Pakistan Aug. 20, 2010. The 746 EAS is staged out of Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, and run missions to Pakistan daily. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andy M. Kin/Released)
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746th aircrew brings relief to flood-torn Pakistan

Posted 8/23/2010   Updated 8/23/2010 Email story   Print story


by Staff Sgt. Kali L. Gradishar
U.S. AFCENT Combat Camera Team

8/23/2010 - BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan  -- As Air Force operations in support of flood relief operations in Pakistan resumed, aircrew and support personnel from the 746th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia prepared to forward deploy to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, to ease the workload of the local airlift squadron already engaged with supporting missions in Afghanistan.

"Once the floods happened, we were tasked... to come up and provide additional support to the airlift squadron here at Bagram to help with the relief effort in Pakistan," said Master Sgt. John Metcalf, an Air Force Reserve C-130 Hercules loadmaster deployed to the 746 EAS. "We brought a small contingency of crews and support personnel and two aircraft to help the (774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron) here so they could continue their mission in Afghanistan and we could help out in Pakistan."

Not long after their arrival in Bagram, the crew began operations from Bagram to the Pakistan Air orce's Central Flood Relief Cell at Chaklala Air Force Base, Pakistan, near the capital city of Islamabad. From there, the C-130 was loaded with relief supplies and sent on its way to various locations affected by the flooding.

The 746th AES crew, an Air Force Reserve unit deployed from the 357th Airlift Squadron out of Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., quickly shifted mindset from missions in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom to humanitarian aid and relief efforts. Being prepared to conduct operations in such an environment, however, doesn't come synonymously with being prepared to see such ruin.

The floods have affected more than 14 million people, more than one million homes were damaged or destroyed, and there have been more than 1,500 deaths and more than 2,000 injuries, according to the National Disaster Management Authority. An estimated one-fifth of the country is underwater; and the disaster has affected more people than the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and 2010 Haiti earthquake combined.

Sergeant Metcalf described his first reaction as being in "complete awe," said the Montgomery, Ala., native. "Just to see the devastation. I've (seen the effects of Hurricane) Katrina in Mississippi and Louisiana, and I'm not going to say that it topped that, but it gave me the same feeling... Towns and farms and buildings just under water."

Lt. Col. Ken Ostrat, an Air Force Reserve C-130 Hercules pilot deployed to the 746th EAS, also recalled being taken back by the astronomical amount of water and seeing villages, farms and lives uprooted.

"The first thing I thought was that this was a massively destructive natural event. There had to be thousands of people who were directly impacted, and hundreds of thousands more that were indirectly impacted by something of that scale," said the Prattville, Ala., native, also the director of operations for the 357 AS at Maxwell AFB. "As we left Islamabad, you could tell the rivers were a little bit high... The more we flew down toward Sukkur, which is downriver, you can see out the window the widening of the river as the floodwaters continued to go further past the banks of the normal river channel.

"By the time we got down to Sukkur there were thousands of acres flooded, virtually the entire area. And you could see that there were farms, date farms, small villages and houses that were completely inundated with the water for miles in every direction," he said.

While this is not the unit's first experience with humanitarian aid missions, there were some unique challenges the crew overcame to safely and efficiently conduct operations supporting flood relief in Pakistan.

Communication, procedures and terrain are among the many changes to adapt to when flying missions into unfamiliar territory as flood relief missions require coordinating with local nationals at the flood relief cell, operating in Pakistan's airspace and flying over Afghanistan and Pakistan's mountainous summits.

The language and communication barrier is one of the major challenges, according to Sergeant Metcalf, a loadmaster with 10 years of experience.

"Anytime you go international, the procedures are slightly different and the terminology is slightly different, so that increases the challenges," said Colonel Ostrat. "You just have to be flexible and respond to their requirements. The biggest challenge is understanding the communication difference. They all speak English - the controllers - however, they all have their own regional dialects and accents, and that sometimes makes it hard."

The crew from the 379 AEW is just one of many elements of support in the worldwide relief effort in Pakistan. The Pakistan-run flood relief center receives and dispatches relief supplies to include food, water and shelter donated by numerous countries.

"It was rewarding to see the international power that is going in to bring relief to those people in Sukkur and all the other downstream regions in Pakistan that were affected," said Colonel Ostrat, describing the various country labels he's seen on relief supply packages to include Korea, China, Russia, Australia and many others.

Being a part of such a huge conglomeration of nations racing to aid a fellow country in need can be a rewarding experience. Sergeant Metcalf expressed satisfaction with the work C-130 crews are doing to relieve some of the hardship on people in flooded regions by providing life-sustaining provisions.

"Unfortunately, when we go into these places we're on a tight timeline. We've got to get in there and get out. We drop off the supplies, and we go to our next destination to pick up supplies and deliver them to all the locations," said Sergeant Metcalf. "We don't really get to see the fruits of our labor, but we know (we're doing a good thing), and that's all that matters to us."

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