Pilot of First Bur­ma Relief Mis­sion Describes Expe­ri­ence

By Navy Lt. Jen­nifer Cragg
Spe­cial to Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice

WASHINGTON, May 14, 2008 — The Air Force pilot who flew the first U.S. relief flight to Bur­ma said today that, while he and his crew were received warm­ly, it was clear to him that more relief is need­ed.

“Every­one … was so ecsta­t­ic or excit­ed to have us there on the ground,” Capt. Trevor Hall said dur­ing a tele­con­fer­ence with online jour­nal­ists and “blog­gers.” “With very lit­tle bro­ken Eng­lish that we could make out, they were try­ing to say, ‘Please bring more; please bring more.’”

Hall was the pilot in com­mand of the C-130E Her­cules trans­port air­craft that flew the first U.S. emer­gency relief sup­plies into Ran­goon Inter­na­tion­al Air­port in Bur­ma. The sup­plies were to assist with the recov­ery from the dev­as­ta­tion that Cyclone Nar­gis wrought over much of Burma’s Irrawad­dy Riv­er delta May 2.

“On board the plane, we took about 30,000 pounds of bot­tled water, mos­qui­to nets and blan­kets for the first plane in,” Hall said.

He said the offload at the air­port took two hours.

“The first hour was spent unload­ing all the sup­plies that we brought in, because [the Burmese mil­i­tary] did have to hand-offload all of the car­go,” Hall said. “They offloaded it all direct­ly off our plane and placed it into mil­i­tary trucks and drove it to a dif­fer­ent stag­ing area on the air­port.

“When we land­ed, I didn’t exact­ly know what to expect as far as what else would be on the ramp at the air­port,” he added.

When the U.S. air­crew land­ed, they saw a Hel­lenic Air Force C-130 plane from Greece, two Malaysian C-130s, and some Indi­an planes, as well.

Fol­low­ing the first relief flight May 12, Hall said, the U.S. Marine Corps trans­port­ed sim­i­lar items yes­ter­day, and more relief flights are con­tin­u­ing today. “The stuff that they were car­ry­ing today was med­ical sup­plies, plas­tic sheet­ing, hygiene kits, some food, and first-aid mate­r­i­al,” said Hall.

The Air Force crew, con­sist­ing of six basic crew mem­bers and two main­tain­ers, flew from the Uta­pao Roy­al Thai Navy air base, in Thai­land. Navy Adm. Tim­o­thy J. Keat­ing, com­man­der of U.S. Pacif­ic Com­mand, and Hen­ri­et­ta Fore, head of the U.S. Agency for Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment, accom­pa­nied the crew on the mis­sion.

After land­ing at the air­port, Keat­ing, Fore and a mem­ber of Thailand’s gov­ern­ment met with Burmese gov­ern­ment offi­cials, Hall said. After their two-hour meet­ing, the crew returned to Bangkok, Thai­land, where Keat­ing and Fore con­tin­ued to coor­di­nate fur­ther relief efforts.

Hall said Keating’s vis­it with the Burmese gov­ern­ment offi­cials was to assure them that U.S. inten­tions are to help them.

“He went in specif­i­cal­ly to nego­ti­ate with the gov­ern­ment to fig­ure out exact­ly what they would allow us to do,” Hall said.

Before assist­ing with the relief efforts, Hall, assigned to 36th Air­lift Squadron at Yoko­ta Air Base in Tokyo, was on assign­ment in Thai­land par­tic­i­pat­ing in a U.S. Marine Corps exer­cise. “We were already in Thai­land sup­port­ing a Marine exer­cise called Cobra Gold, and we were get­ting ready to go back home to Tokyo when all this kind of kicked off,” he said.

Hall not­ed that the air­crew had been stand­ing by on alert for 10 days, ready to go at a moment’s notice.

“We were received very gra­cious­ly. … Obvi­ous­ly, [the Burmese mil­i­tary] knew we were com­ing, and they were plan­ning for us,” he said.

Hall said he believes Ran­goon Inter­na­tion­al Air­port could eas­i­ly acco­mo­date one of the larg­er C-17 Globe­mas­ter III or KC-10 Exten­der trans­port jets each hour, but might have dif­fi­cul­ties offload­ing them.

“There would be no prob­lems with han­dling the large amounts of traf­fic or even ramp space. The one prob­lem they would have, though, is their offload capa­bil­i­ty is very lim­it­ed,” he explained. “They didn’t have, for instance, fork­lifts or any type of equip­ment that was real­ly need­ed to offload our plane, and the plane end­ed [up hav­ing] to be hand-offloaded.”

Dur­ing their flight to Ran­goon, the crew flew over the cyclone-dev­as­tat­ed area and saw the results first­hand.

“The major­i­ty of our route, once we crossed over the bor­der, you could see the amount of dev­as­ta­tion that the coun­try had to face,” he said. “There was a mas­sive amount of flood­ing [and] lots of stand­ing water.

“Many trees had been tossed over, and hous­es … had been knocked down,” he con­tin­ued. “And obvi­ous­ly, from our per­spec­tive, it looked like not much had been done to real­ly get it cleaned out at this time.”

Hall said that dur­ing the flight crew’s descent to the air­port — at about 1,000 to 2,000 feet — they noticed a lot of main roads around the air­port, but saw only saw one truck on the road, indi­cat­ing con­tin­ued obsta­cles to mas­sive relief efforts.

“Based on what I saw, I real­ly don’t think they have the infra­struc­ture. … It would take a lot of peo­ple and resources to dis­trib­ute it the way it needs to be dis­trib­uted,” he said.

Hall was born in St. Louis Park, Minn., but grew up in Rig­by, Ida­ho, a small town out­side of Ida­ho Falls, Ida­ho. He earned his com­mis­sion through the U.S. Air Force Acad­e­my.

(Navy Lt. Jen­nifer Cragg works for the New Media branch of Amer­i­can Forces Infor­ma­tion Ser­vice.)

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)