USA — More Army Helicopters Arrive in Pakistan

GHAZI AVIATION BASE, Pak­istan, Sept. 7, 2010 — Four Army UH-60 Black Hawk heli­copters and more than 60 sol­diers arrived here today as part of the expan­sion of U.S. mil­i­tary flood relief efforts in Pak­istan.

The arrival marks the begin­ning of a tran­si­tion of the north­ern relief mis­sion to the Army’s 1st Bat­tal­ion, 52nd Avi­a­tion Reg­i­ment, 16th Com­bat Avi­a­tion Brigade. The cur­rent Ghazi-based forces — Marine Heavy Heli­copter Squadron 165, the 15th Marine Expe­di­tionary Unit and Detach­ment 2 of the Navy’s Heli­copter Mine Coun­ter­mea­sures Squadron — will move south in the com­ing weeks to oper­ate from Pano Aqil air­field near Sukkur, where flood­ing is wide­spread.

Marine Corps Lt. Col. Todd One­to, com­man­der of HMM-165, said the Army will begin relief oper­a­tions in the Swat val­ley almost imme­di­ate­ly. His unit already has begun the tran­si­tion by shar­ing pic­tures and infor­ma­tion on the flight area and land­ing zones. Marine and Navy avi­a­tors also will work to famil­iar­ize Army air­crews through joint flights pair­ing Army and Marine heli­copters or by accom­pa­ny­ing Army crews on ini­tial flights as observers, One­to said.

Although flood­ing has large­ly sub­sided in north­ern Pak­istan, the dam­age to bridges and infra­struc­ture along the Swat Val­ley floor has left it large­ly cut off and in need of sup­port.

Addi­tion­al Army heli­copters, includ­ing 10 heavy lift CH-47 Chi­nook heli­copters, are sched­uled to arrive at Ghazi in the com­ing week. The UH-60s were trans­port­ed by car­go plane from their home base in Alas­ka to Chakala, Pak­istan, then reassem­bled and flown to Ghazi.

As the Army heli­copters arrive, One­to said, he is con­fi­dent the tran­si­tion will be a smooth one as his unit pre­pares to move south.

“I’m excit­ed. We look for­ward to it. It’s going to be a whole dif­fer­ent ball game,” he said. One­to not­ed that the envi­ron­ment in the south would be sim­i­lar to tsuna­mi relief mis­sions that the unit has com­plet­ed in the past, but that he antic­i­pates the heat and flood­ing will make the envi­ron­ment chal­leng­ing.

Two Marine Corps CH-46 Sea Knight heli­copters already have relo­cat­ed to Pano Aqil and are fly­ing relief oper­a­tions, with two more sched­uled to depart soon. The MH-53 and CH-53 heavy lift heli­copters remain­ing at Ghazi even­tu­al­ly will tran­si­tion south to oper­ate direct­ly off of the USS Peleliu after the Chi­nooks replace them here.

The tran­si­tion of heli­copters should allow for more effec­tive oper­a­tions, offi­cials said, as Navy and Marine heli­copters oper­at­ing in the south will have bet­ter access to logis­tics and repair facil­i­ties on the Peleliu. Addi­tion­al­ly, the Army heli­copters are bet­ter suit­ed to the ele­va­tions of north­ern Pak­istan and the Swat Val­ley.

U.S. forces are oper­at­ing in close coor­di­na­tion with the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary to assess and deter­mine relief dis­tri­b­u­tion loca­tions.

Navy and Marine Corps heli­copters arrived here in mid-August, fol­low­ing an ini­tial response by the Army 3rd Com­bat Avi­a­tion Brigade, which deployed here for sev­er­al weeks in ear­ly August direct­ly from Region­al Com­mand East in Afghanistan.

As of yes­ter­day, U.S. mil­i­tary heli­copters alone had deliv­ered more than 2.4 mil­lion pounds of relief sup­plies and trans­port­ed more than 12,000 peo­ple.

One­to said he is proud of what his unit has accom­plished in only a few weeks. “They have exceed­ed all expec­ta­tions, and I have high expec­ta­tions to begin with,” he said.

From a Joint Pub­lic Affairs Sup­port Ele­ment Ghazi News Release
U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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