Marine Unit Provides Cyclone Relief in Bangladesh
By Cpl. Peter R. Miller, USMC
Special to American Forces Press Service
ABOARD USS KEARSARGE, Nov. 26, 2007 In response to a request from the government of Bangladesh, elements of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard USS Kearsarge traveled about 3,500 miles from the Sea of Bengal to provide disaster relief to the cyclone-stricken country.
Bangladeshi soldiers use a stretcher to unload a shipment of bottled water delivered by Marines of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (Reinforced), the aviation element of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), in Barisal, Bangladesh, Nov. 23, 2007. This mission marked the first US military aid arriving in Bangladesh. USS Kearsarge and the 22nd MEU are supporting relief operations at the request of the government of Bangladesh. Photo by Cpl. Peter R. Miller, USMC
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
On Nov. 15, Tropical Cyclone Sidr ripped across the coast of Bangladesh, killing more than 3,000 people, leaving several hundred thousand people homeless, and ravaging the local crops and infrastructure.
On Nov. 23, the MEU’s relief effort began with the delivery of 700 gallons of bottled water to a small airfield in Barisal, Bangladesh.
“Today’s mission was essentially a humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, mission to start providing the necessary materials,” said Capt. Andrew M. Traynor, a CH-46E Sea Knight pilot with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261, who flew in the day’s mission.
As the helicopters hovered over the airfield, children clad in colorful clothing watched and waved from a nearby roadside. Bangladeshi soldiers lined the tarmac until Nix greeted them and led them back to the aircraft.
“We got out there and said, ‘Hey, this is what we need,’” said Nix. “I think they were just hesitant to jump right in because they didn’t want to offend us.”
The wary stares of the Bangladeshi soldiers quickly evolved into friendly embraces as they crowded around the rear of the aircraft to shake hands and chat with their visitors. They were soon working with the Marines to unload the water.
“We worked together, and the language barrier wasn’t a problem,” said Traynor. “The offload went very smoothly and quickly. It’s all about the team, because that’s how we work.”
The crew chiefs did an excellent job by taking the lead and getting the water out of the aircraft, Traynor said.
“It was pretty cool,” said Sgt. Mickael S. Clemann, a CH-46 crew chief, and Brandon, Fla., native. “A lot of the (Bangladeshi) soldiers smiled and showed what I’m guessing is their gesture of thank you, where they put their hand on their chest and bring it toward you.”
The sight of two militaries, unfamiliar with each other, coming together was one of the most impressive things Nix had ever seen, he said.
“It was good to see those guys with smiles on their faces, even though they’ve lost some of their countrymen,” said Nix. “It’s good to be able to help them out.”
(Marine Cpl. Peter R. Miller serves with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit.)