Friday, January 15, 2010

Unsung Heroes

In the early hours of U.S. military response to the Haiti earthquake, two Air Force MC-130s touched down at Port-au-Prince Airport. Along with relief supplies, the Combat Talons brought badly needed expertise in the form of medical teams, security personnel and combat controllers.

While the mission of the medics and the security specialists was both urgent and demanding, the combat controllers faced (perhaps) the greatest challenge of all. With power at the airport out--and air traffic control non-existent--the controllers were charged with re-establishing ATC services in Port-au-Prince, allowing relief flights to continue. They were also charged with scouting landing zones where aid could be disseminated by airdrop or helicopter.

Such missions are nothing new for combat controllers, who have participated in virtually every major combat operation and humanitarian mission since World War II. They are among the most highly-trained airmen; earning the coveted scarlet beret takes a minimum of 35 weeks, and the program includes everything from air traffic control and combat controller school, to airborne and dive training. As you might expect, the training is rigorous, equal to that of other special operations personnel; the wash-out rate approaches 70%.

But the controllers who make it through the pipeline are simply indispensable, both in combat and relief missions. Combat controllers routinely deploy with special operations teams; the first Air Force Cross winner in Afghanistan was a controller, TSgt John Chapman, who was killed during Operation Anaconda. Chapman was credited with saving his team after their helicopter was shot down by Al Qaida insurgents.

Combat controllers continue to serve with distinction in Afghanistan and Iraq, but they have also been recognized for missions closer to home. Controllers were among the first military personnel to reach the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, and they led the charge into Haiti this week.

But the list of unsung Air Force heroes doesn't end with the combat controllers. Another group of early arrivals were aerial port specialists from Joint Base McGuire and other installations. With air traffic control restored at Port-au-Prince, the aerial port teams were charged with organizing the flow of cargo, equipment and aircraft. They also brought the equipment needed to off-load pallets of supplies; many of the transports delivering cargo for non-governmental organizations are converted airliners, and can't be unloaded without special equipment. Without the aerial port teams, much of that cargo could not be unloaded.

At this point, aid to the Haitian population is little more than a trickle. But that trickle will become a flood in the coming days, thanks to the U.S. military and in particular, the combat controllers who re-opened the airport, and the aerial porters who made it functional again.


Aerospook said...

One thing I do not understand (so far) is that all of the MSM's coverage of the horror in Haiti, I ahve seen only brief mention and video of the tremendous contribution being made by the US military. If I were a conspiracy nut, I would believe it was intentional. Why would the American MSM ignore the opportunity to show how much our military is contributing?

Claude said...

MSM's are probably embarrassed because they don't have the values, commitment, honor and courage of our military. They seem to only think of themselves.
MSNBC Reporter Complains About the Media Accommodations in Haiti:

Lela said...

Loved this post. I can't figure out the trackback "thingy" so I'll just let you know here that I linked to your post.

Unknown said...

Aero--here's another irony about the MSM's "coverage" of U.S. military relief ops in Haiti.

Except for their brief forays into the countryside (to interview desperate Haitians or to get more footage for the evening news), the media contingent is camped out at the Port-au-Prince Airport, where there is electicity, some running water, and at least porta-potties for facilities.

In that location, the media types are literally shoulder-to-shoulder with the aerial port specialists who brought order to the airport, and the combat controllers are just a stone's throw away in the control tower and other ATC facilities. But it never occurs to them that some of the most compelling stories are right under their nose, like the combat controller who is guiding relief aircraft into the airport--the same guy who was putting airstrikes on the Taliban a year ago. Or the airman on that K-loader; without him, all those pallets of relief supplies would be sitting on an airplane, completely useless.

Just more proof that journalism as we once knew it is dead and gone.