Air Commandos take advantage of relief efforts to further partnerships

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Veronica Pierce
  • 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
After a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated Padang, Indonesia different nations around the world quickly offered assistance. Unknown by most, on Oct. 2 the first foreign military aircraft to deliver humanitarian aid to the affected region would be a 17th Special Operations Squadron MC-130P Combat Shadow from the 353rd Special Operations Group stationed at Kadena Air Base, Japan, carrying more than six tons of relief supplies and 25 international relief workers.

Prior to the earthquake Airmen from the 353rd Special Operations Group were participating in an exercise at Husein AB in Bandung, Indonesia, which started on Sept. 29. The 353rd SOG was working with 31 Squadron from the Indonesian Air Force and KORPASKHAS to enhance U.S and Indonesian military training capabilities and increase interoperability in key areas such flight safety, flight operations, combat control, medical support, and communication support, The KORPASKHAS are the Indonesia counterparts to the U.S. Air Force Special Tactics.

"As we transitioned to humanitarian operations, we saw this as an opportunity to continue to build our relationship with our host nation partners," said Maj. John Traxler, a special tactics officer with the 353rd SOG. "We were already providing instruction and training on the same capabilities and mission sets needed for the humanitarian relief efforts. The earthquake presented the perfect opportunity to transition the training and partnerships to an operational setting that would achieve tangible results and contribute significantly to the U.S.-Indonesian relationship we were there to develop."

As the 353rd SOG and KORPASKHAS quickly shifted their focus to humanitarian operations, the teams were alerted Tabing Military Air Field, a closed military airstrip near Padang, was the optimal location for incoming military aircraft to fly-in relief supplies. Due to the earthquake the airfield had no electricity, the runway was severely degraded, and the air traffic control tower was critically damaged. Combat controllers assigned to the 353rd SOG assisted Indonesian military forces in surveying and opening Tabing Airfield Oct. 4. Within three hours, the combat controllers, KORPASKHAS and Indonesian Air Force air traffic controllers were guiding their first aircraft into the closed airstrip.

"Throughout the operations at Tabing, we worked very close with our Indonesian counterparts," said Major Traxler. "Most of the time we were standing next to each other controlling aircraft coming into the airfield. Without our partnership we would not have been able to successfully open and maintain this airfield that proved to be very vital to our relief operations."

While the combat controllers and KORPASKHAS were manning Tabing, another key partnership was also being formed in Jakarta. U.S. military, Royal Australian Air Force and Indonesian Air Force officials formed a Combined Air Mobility Division at Halim Air Base Oct. 6 to successfully coordinate C-130 flights delivering humanitarian aid supplies in and out of Padang. All three nations maintained a presence in the coordination center.

"We saw the need to work together and fused three operation cells into one creating the CAMD," said RAAF Wing Commander Bill Kourelakas. "The CAMD worked exponentially well providing us with an integrated flying program in support of the Indonesia relief efforts."

Lt. Col. Eric Zimmerman from the 17th SOS was the mission commander for the CAMD. He described the roles of participating nations during relief operations.

"The RAAF led the organization of the flying schedule on behalf of the coalition as they had the majority of the participating aircraft," said Lieutenant Colonel Zimmerman. "The 353rd SOG provided long range communications equipment to be able to track coalition aircraft on their missions and coordinate with airfields in the earthquake affected areas."

The three nations continued to work amicably to provide relief to earthquake victims throughout relief operations. Each country combined assets needed to ensure aid donated by various government organizations reached the earthquake victims without conflict.

"This operation is a good example of how Air Force Special Operation units are able to use the relationships and experiences gained through our Joint Combined Exchange Training program to respond quickly and work seamlessly with other nations Air Forces to conduct successful combined operations when an urgent need arises," said Lieutenant Colonel Zimmerman.

As the group's participation in relief efforts came to a close, more than 65 members provided their unique expertise in key areas to multiple organizations supporting relief efforts across the affected area. Communications personnel established communications capabilities at four locations. Pararescue and medical personnel joined a five-person Indonesian rescue team and treated countless patients at multiple locations while aiding the team's search and recovery efforts. MC-130P Combat Shadow aircrews flew 38 flights that provided airlift for emergency response teams, equipment and relief supplies, and provided damage assessments throughout the affected area. The aircrews moved approximately 130 people, and more than 216,000 pounds of cargo, food, medical supplies and miscellaneous equipment. The opening of Tabing Military Air Field was directly responsible for the movement of more than 140,000 pounds of relief supplies and more than 500 personnel supporting relief efforts. (Tech. Sgt. Aaron Cram, 353rd Special Operations Group Public Affairs, contributed to this article.)