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March Air Reserve Base assists with Haiti earthquake relief efforts

  • Published
  • By Megan Just
  • 452 AMW Public Affairs
March Air Reserve Base became a hub for Southern California's Haiti earthquake relief effort when a team of approximately 75 U.S. Agency for International Development personnel and their rescue equipment reported to the base for transportation to Port Au Prince, Jan. 13.

The deploying personnel, who will be operating under the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance's USAID, are members of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, as well as several doctors from Los Angeles area hospitals. The C-17 Globemaster III that is scheduled to transport the crew and their equipment to Haiti is from Travis Air Force Base, Calif.

"This is what March Field is here for," said Brig. Gen. James Melin, 452nd Air Mobility Wing commander. "We support every aspect of this country's global support, whether it be military, humanitarian relief or disaster response."

Matt Levesque, an information officer with the Los Angeles County Fire Department said the responders are all certified in urban search and rescue, with specialists including paramedics, structural engineers and experts in communications and hazardous materials.

"They are trained to help people. For them, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity to respond quickly and make an impact saving lives," Levesque said. "March's high degree of professionalism really makes the deployment go smoothly."

The USAID team was ready to deploy from Los Angeles as soon as they received official notification. They arrived at March ARB in a chain of chartered busses and semi trucks of rescue equipment and supplies. After arriving, the group held a series of briefings, then prepared their equipment for transport.

Airmen from the 452nd Aerial Port Support Flight were placed on standby at 11 p.m., Jan. 12. The following day, along with Airmen from March ARB's 50th Aerial Port Squadron and Travis AFB's 615th Contingency Response Wing, they supervised the loading of the aircraft and passenger accountability.

"We know this is going to help people on the other end [Haiti]," said Tech. Sgt. Gus Corona, non-commissioned officer in charge of ramp operations.

Sergeant Corona said the APSF crew has seen several humanitarian relief missions leave from March ARB over the past several years. After watching the news about the earthquake in Haiti, Sergeant Corona and his fellow Airmen knew there was a good chance they would be called to assist.

The L.A. County Fire Department stores pre-packed disaster relief supplies in warehouses in transportable containers. As the March ARB Airmen analyzed the remaining space available on the C-17, the urban search and rescue personnel began removing excess material to leave behind in the United States.

Laura Froehlich and a team of six tireless volunteers opened March ARB's deployment hangar and served fresh baked goods, coffee, tea, cider, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and instant soup to the rescue personnel as they waited for their flight to leave.

Levesque said the USAID personnel greatly appreciated the volunteers' hospitality. "The cookies will be the last cookies they'll see for the next couple of weeks," he said.

As the loading work wound down, some of the urban search and rescue personnel found solace in the warm deployment hangar, making phone calls to loved ones and relaxing. Some watched the news on the big-screen televisions in the hangar where reports would sometimes be covering the events of the fire department's deployment from live broadcasts just 50 feet away from where they were sitting.

March hosted 10 local and national media covering the USAID deployment. The USAID team departed from March ARB at 9:45 p.m. and was due to arrive in Port Au Prince around 4 a.m., P.S.T.