CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Sgt. Noel Rao, a member of Company B, 214th Aviation Regiment of 2nd Battalion, 25th Infantry Division, checked the rotors yesterday on a Chinook helicopter being transported to Pakistan.
60 Army troops join quake relief
The Pakistan mission involves shipment of critical supplies
About 60 aviation soldiers from Wheeler Army Airfield leave on a humanitarian mission to earthquake-ravaged Pakistan tomorrow.
The members of Company B, 214th Aviation Regiment, and four of the unit's CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopters will be part of an international relief effort.
"With these aircraft they will fly up into the remote regions that have been most devastated by the recent disaster," said Col. Frank Hall, 25th Infantry Division Combat Aviation Brigade commander.
These are the same soldiers and aircraft that returned from a year-long deployment to Afghanistan in March and helped fight brush fires on Oahu's Leeward Coast this summer.
Their mission in Pakistan will be to ferry tents, medical equipment, food, water and other critical supplies. They were not selected specifically for medical transport duty, but Hall said the soldiers can expect to transport injured survivors.
Soldiers were at Hickam Air Force Base yesterday preparing the helicopters for loading aboard heavy equipment transport aircraft.
The Hawaii soldiers will join soldiers from other aviation units from the mainland in Pakistan.
The deployment order did not specify how long the soldiers will remain in Pakistan.
Hall said the deployment is not only a good chance to help an ally and spread good will, it is a tremendous training opportunity.
"The mission that they'll go on in terms of picking up, delivering critical supplies is very similar to the type of mission these particular aircraft and this particular unit will do in combat," Hall said.
The soldiers will face the hazards of high altitude, winter weather and possibly uncharted high wires when flying into remote villages.
They received the deployment order Tuesday. Most of them volunteered, including Sgt. 1st Class Geoff Hubbard, a flight engineer instructor.
Hubbard, 38, said his unit is short on flight engineers so he is filling in as a crew member. He believes transporting people, even dead ones, is important in bringing families together.
"Hopefully we'll make a big difference over there, and I think we will. They need our help and that's what we're here for," Hubbard said.
He said his wife supports his decision to volunteer even if it means taking care of the couple's 5-year-old son and 1 1/2-year-old daughter by herself.
Sgt. Jesus Avery, 23, is also a flight engineer, and he volunteered as well.
"I'd rather be there first and get back early than swap out with someone two months from now," Avery said.
Avery said he does not relish the thought of having to transport the bodies of people who did not survive the effects of last week's earthquake.
"But I guess what your job (is), what you're doing is helping them out moving them to a better place," he said.
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CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Master Sgt. Harold Pang checked a satellite dish yesterday used for transmission of signals by the Hawaii Air National Guard.
Guard to help coordinate relief efforts in Louisiana
The first team of Hawaii National Guard members to assist in the Hurricane Katrina/Rita relief effort might leave Monday.
The team of between six and eight members from various Hawaii units specializes in communications and is one of 12 such teams across the country.
The group has the expertise and equipment to connect to a wide range of communications from voice, data, video to teleconferencing on different frequencies and communication systems.
"It's an all-encompassing array of communications equipment that can allow disaster management managers to better coordinate efforts," said Maj. Chuck Anthony, public affairs officer for the Hawaii National Guard.
Anthony said there is still a lack of communications among some of the different agencies and technologies in Louisiana.
The Hawaii Guard members will be part of a small technical operations center in the area and will use Interim Satellite Incident Site Communications Set, a self-contained system requiring no outside connection.
Hawaii has come close to sending their Guard members for the hurricane relief effort but was told to stand down. Guard members from closer mainland states were sent instead.