Soon after the earthquake rocked Haiti Jan. 12 and changed the country forever, the reaction among many Airmen was the same: “How can I volunteer to go?”
Like them, I wanted my chance to be a part of the relief effort. After all, how many people get that kind of experience? Thinking I probably would not be tasked because of my rank and an upcoming deployment, I thought all I could do was donate money to a charity and pray for the survivors.
Quicker than I thought, people, including those in my office, began getting tasked for temporary duties. I thought they were lucky to be the ones on the ground in Haiti because they would really get to help.
Throughout the next week, I learned that, in situations like this, helping the relief effort goes much deeper than being on the front lines.
On Sunday afternoon, following the quake, I got a call to pack my things.
I was going to Pope Air Force Base, N.C., and on to Haiti. I was excited that I would actually get a chance to see the place that had been all across news stations and that I could do my part to help.
Then when I found out I would “only” be going on air delivery missions, where the supplies were dropped out of the back of the plane while in the air, I did not feel like I would be helping the citizens of Haiti as much.
I later learned that what I was a part of was an invaluable, tireless effort by thousands of people to provide relief to a country that had been devastated by a natural disaster.
My job was to augment the Pope AFB public affairs office by escorting media on air deliveries. While we facilitated the media getting their stories, I noticed there were people who always seemed to be working to help, whether it was creating flight plans or guarding the entry points.
Even volunteers, including those with the Red Cross and the USO, worked every day until there were no more people to feed.
More than 500 Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., slept in the terminals for two days before leaving for Haiti.
I learned they were given a very short amount of time to prepare for the trip and they did not know when they were coming back.
Even people who deploy to the desert know when they are coming back, I thought to myself. They were definitely stepping into an unknown situation.
I thought about the families. I thought about how the families probably helped the Soldiers pack their bags, running out to the stores to get things they forgot and how they take care of the things at home, so that the service members can focus on the mission.
Out on the flight line, there were aircraft from many different bases waiting to load supplies and people to take to Haiti. Pope’s aircraft maintainers and other flight line personnel worked around the clock to support the missions with more than 70 aircraft from other bases arriving and leaving daily. No, they never went to Haiti, but neither the supplies nor the personnel could have made it there without them.
My job is to help tell the Air Force story and through my experience, I learned that many times, it reaches beyond us. The many family members, Department of Defense civilians, USO, and Red Cross volunteers, and even a pizza man who bravely maneuvered his way through the base to provide pizzas for the Soldiers, all took part in the Haiti relief efforts.
As the saying goes, Airmen are the heart of the Air Force because we are the worker bees. Although we may not always see or understand how our job is helping, our actions span further than we know.
… I thought all I could do was donate money to a charity and pray for the survivors.