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Wednesday, January 5, 2005
Isle Air Guard
The Madrids will miss the first birthday of their youngest daughter -- Abigayle -- on Jan. 9. "It's going to be hard," said Shelly, "but it's for a worthy cause.
"It was my 4-year-old that said it best: 'I'm proud of my mom and dad.' They understand that mommy and daddy are cops and sometime they have to go."
Colin's mother traveled from Texas to care for the children while the Madrids are in Indonesia.
Master Sgt. Ray Duropan said three teams of a total of 39 people will be deployed to an airfield being used by planes and helicopters bringing aid to the region.
The Hawaii Air Guard security specialists are taking a lot of bottled water and meals ready to eat, as well as tents and generators, and three all-terrain vehicles as well.
Tech. Sgt. Michael Armistead, 31, who has spent 10 years in the Air Guard and the Air Force as a security police officer, said he volunteered "because I wanted to help. It's a different mission, not combat-oriented and an opportunity to lend a hand to a country which really needs it."
Master Sgt. Everett Ferreira, a Maui policeman, was at work on Thursday when he got the call. The 49-year-old has been with the Air Guard for 28 years and has been sent overseas at least 20 times. The last two were security missions to Saudi Arabia.
"I thought I would go this time," said Ferreira, who has been a policeman on Maui for 25 years, "to take care of the new troops."
The Hawaii Air Guard security team was scheduled to board a C-5 cargo jet early this morning, stopping first on Guam and then at Utapaio in Thailand before deploying to Sumatra.
WASHINGTON » The U.S. military probably will double the number of helicopters assigned to South Asia tsunami relief missions and is prepared to send several portable hospitals and other additional medical help, senior U.S. military and civilian officials said yesterday.
Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander of Hawaii-based Pacific Command, told a Pentagon news conference that about 45 U.S. helicopters are now involved in the relief mission, dubbed Operation United Assistance. That number probably will double, although the exact number will be determined in part by the amount of additional aircraft provided by other responding nations, he said.
In all, about 13,000 U.S. military personnel are involved in the relief effort, including about 11,600 aboard ships and about 1,000 in Thailand, where an air base is serving as the U.S. command center. There also are U.S. military personnel in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Malaysia.
In a separate news conference, William Winkenwerder, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said the military is prepared to send as many as eight portable hospitals, including a 25-bed version that could be flown aboard two C-17 cargo planes from Yokota air base in Japan.
The military also is prepared to send mortuary affairs groups to help deal with recovered human remains, he said.
Two 10-person teams of military and civilian forensics specialists have already been sent from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii to assist in recovering, sorting and identification of remains. Winkenwerder said about another 100 forensics specialists would be sent.
Winkenwerder said the Defense Department was coordinating with other government agencies, the United Nations and World Health Organization to determine what additional medical assistance is needed. He cited the vulnerability of the hundreds of thousands of displaced people in Indonesia and other countries hit by the earthquake and resulting tsunami on Dec. 26.
"All of this creates a breeding ground for disease and for epidemics, and we're concerned about the possibility of that," he said. Cholera, hepatitis-A and other water-borne infection diseases are threats, he said, as are measles and malaria.
Fargo said helicopters, capable of flying from aboard ships or from land bases and able to operate around the clock from austere landing strips, are especially useful in relief operations.
"Helicopters are a tremendous advantage, because, of course, they don't have the same restrictions as fixed-wing aircraft in terms of how many you can have on the ground at a time," he said.
There are 17 helicopters aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, which is operating off the coast of Sumatra, which suffered some of the heaviest damage, and there are 25 aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious assault ship that began flight operations off Sumatra on Tuesday.
There also are four land-based U.S. helicopters operating in the area, and Fargo said the USS Fort McHenry is headed to the area from Okinawa with six CH-46 medium-lift helicopters.
A combat supply ship, the USNS Niagara Falls, is also headed to the area from Guam with additional helicopters, Fargo said, adding that the government of Singapore plans to send additional helicopters.
Fargo said he had no estimate of how much the military portion of the U.S. disaster relief effort is costing, but he noted that it costs about $2.5 million a day to operate a carrier strike group like the one headed by the USS Abraham Lincoln.
Fargo said preparations are under way to deploy the USNS Mercy, a 1,000-bed hospital ship based at San Diego. He said a final decision on its readiness has not been made, but it has been on sea trials this week "to make sure that she's ready to go." Other defense officials said the Mercy has been loading and taking on fuel in preparation to leave before the end of the week.
Officials are working on an "imaginative way" to deploy the Mercy, Fargo said.
"You know that these hospital ships were normally used for trauma in combat, but we think that there may be an opportunity to configure the Mercy with a humanitarian assistance crew that might be staffed significantly by nongovernmental organizations and people that have significant medical capability and can provide relief in other forms," the admiral said.
JAKARTA, Indonesia » Fearing child-trafficking gangs will exploit the chaos of the tsunami disaster, Indonesia has placed restrictions on youngsters leaving the country, ordered police commanders to be on the lookout for trafficking and posted special guards in refugee camps.
UNICEF and other child welfare groups warn that the gangs -- who are well-established in Indonesia -- may well be whisking orphaned children into trafficking networks, selling them into forced labor or even sexual slavery in wealthier neighboring countries such as Malaysia and Singapore.
Today, UNICEF spokesman John Budd, based in Banda Aceh, said the group had two confirmed reports of attempted child trafficking, but he did not immediately provide any further details.
Such trafficking, if true, would vastly deepen the suffering of children already struck hard by the Dec. 26 massive earthquake and tsunami. Indonesia estimates that 35,000 children on Sumatra island's Aceh province lost one or both parents to the widespread disaster, which killed an estimated 150,000 people and left 5 million in need.
Fueling the suspicions, many Indonesians have received mobile phone text messages this week inviting them to adopt orphans from Aceh. The police are investigating the messages.
Child welfare experts warn the messages could be a sign that children are being removed from the province, reducing their chances of being reunited with relatives or surviving parents who may be searching for them.
"I'm sure it's happening," said Birgithe Lund-Henriksen, child protection chief in UNICEF's Indonesia office. "It's a perfect opportunity for these guys to move in."
Officials concede that so far they have little hard evidence of specific cases, but say the aftermath of a natural disaster is a perfect breeding ground for such traffic. Hundreds of thousands of people have been driven from their homes, children have been separated from their families and the deaths of parents leave their offspring especially vulnerable to criminals.
In Thailand, Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said yesterday that his government was working closely with hospitals to prevent human trafficking gangs from taking advantage of the situation, although he stressed that there was no firm indication that they were.
The threat of trafficking appears more serious in Indonesia than any of the other southern Asian nations hit by the tsunami, probably because the scale of death and destruction is greatest here and the territory more remote, UNICEF director Carol Bellamy told The Associated Press in an interview yesterday.
Making matters worse, the hardest-hit area in Indonesia -- Aceh -- is not far from the port city of Medan and nearby island of Batam, which are well-known transit points for gangs shipping children and teenagers out of Indonesia.
Indonesian officials were already taking steps, ordering provincial commanders, especially in and near Aceh, to be alert to possible child trafficking. Police officers in some Aceh refugee camps were urging people to be skeptical of anyone claiming to be from a charitable group aiding children or saying they are related to an orphan, National police chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar said.
Bellamy applauded the government's announcement Monday that it was temporarily barring anyone from taking Acehnese children under 16 out of the country.
Children must stay in Aceh until all are registered, a project that could take a month. After that, they will be allowed to leave, preferably for other parts of Sumatra.
UNICEF and aid agencies plan to set up special centers focused on children's needs within five Aceh refugee camps by the end of the week, and 15 more soon after, she said. Workers will help protect children from traffickers and try to identify and register them.