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Banner - 2005 Year in Review
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A young Indonesian girl is carried to a U.S. Navy helicopter for a medvac flight from University Hospital, Banda Aceh to hospital ship USNS Mercy for treatment, Feb. 22, 2005. Mercy has been operating off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia providing assistance to international relief organizations and host nation medical teams ashore in tsunami-affected areas. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Rebecca J. Moat
WALL OF WATER
U.S. Troops Aid Tsunami Victims

American forces began 2005 by helping people on the other side of the globe. Within hours of the Dec. 26, 2004, earthquake and tsunami that devastated large swaths of the Indian Ocean region, U.S. troops were mobilizing to help. Thousands of servicemembers rang in the New Year in the region or were mobilizing to go there.

U.S. Pacific Command had immediately begun planning the U.S. and international response. Military leaders communicated directly with U.S. ambassadors and senior military officers in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand, among other countries.

As Jan. 1, 2005, dawned, the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group was afloat off the Indonesian island of Sumatra , and the ship's 17 helicopters and aircrews were flying relief supplies to survivors in devastated areas. The USS Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group, with support ships and 25 helicopters, had almost arrived from Guam. Pre-positioned ships full of supplies had left Japan, Guam and Diego Garcia en route to the region. And Joint Task Force 536, soon to be renamed Combined Support Force 536, was already operating in Utapao, Thailand.

“Like in so many places, those who wear our uniform are showing the great decency of America . I appreciate your compassion. I appreciate your love for your fellow human beings and thank you for the work you do.”
                                                                        President George W. Bush

“One thing the Indonesians are never going to forget is who was there first,” U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia B. Lynn Pascoe said a few weeks later during a visit to the Lincoln.

Within days, more than 15,000 U.S. military members were in Southeast Asia assisting relief and recovery efforts under Operation Unified Assistance, the name given the post-tsunami relief efforts focused on Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

“If you look at the front pages of many papers, you'll see pictures of U.S. military people rescuing people, delivering food and water, assisting with emergency medical types of assistance,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in a Jan. 4 radio interview.

The U.S. response was massive, immediate and comprehensive. At least 17 Navy ships and a Coast Guard cutter were in the region or en route within a week.

“Like in so many places, those who wear our uniform are showing the great decency of America, ” President Bush said Jan. 10 of the humanitarian efforts. “I appreciate your compassion. I appreciate your love for your fellow human beings and thank you for the work you do.”

Military medical assets proved invaluable in many ways. USNS Mercy, a floating trauma center with the capacity to house up to 1,000 hospitalized patients, departed its home base in San Diego Jan. 5. For six weeks the ship was supporting the operation with more than 500 U.S. Navy and nongovernmental organization medical staff, volunteers, uniformed Public Health Service members, and Navy support personnel. Mercy's personnel conducted a wide range of medical and dental assistance programs ashore and afloat, performing 19,512 medical procedures, including 285 surgeries.

Many more were helped through the efforts of environmental and preventive medicine specialists. Military epidemiologists, entomologists, hygienists, microbiologists and others tested water, soil and air samples

for diseases and contaminants to ensure the safety of aid workers and displaced local residents. The teams helped identify and treat contaminated wells, killed flies and mosquitoes in large areas, and trapped and removed rats from displaced-persons camps.

“We know that we touched many, many people – more than 50,000 directly, with a larger lasting impact – with efforts of the preventive medicine unit … and the friends that we made,” Navy Capt. Dave Llewellyn, Mercy commander, said as the ship was transiting home.

Navy oceanographers conducted safety and navigation surveys of the ocean and coastlines in the region. “The tsunami wiped out tons of shoreline,” said Forrest Noll, a scientist with the Naval Oceanographic Office in Stennis, Miss. “It changed the landscape drastically.”

In a more colorful description of the devastation, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class David Loiselle said, “It looked like somebody had just taken a giant Weedwacker to the entire coast.”

Loiselle, an aviation warfare systems operator aboard the Lincoln , said the relief work was one of his most rewarding experiences. “My single biggest gratitude is rescuing people,” he said. “I'd much rather do that than (be) shooting people.”

Other military support included:

• USS Fort McHenry, a dock landing ship that left Sasebo , Japan , Jan. 2, delivered more than 1.2 million pounds of water, food items and clothes. Fort McHenry also delivered more than 2,000 pounds of supplies personally collected by communities within Fleet Activities Sasebo.

• Hundreds of Marine Corps engineers and Navy Seabees helped Sri Lankans repair infrastructure and clear debris. Some debris cleared from the island was used to reconstruct a sea wall.

• Army engineers deployed to Thailand to help rebuild roads, bridges and power infrastructure.

• Several teams of military forensics experts, including anthropologists, dentists and mortuary affairs specialists, helped manage the overwhelming numbers of bodies.

Officials estimate roughly 300,000 people died in the disaster, and more than 1.1 million people were displaced. The statistics regarding U.S. relief efforts are also staggering. According to U.S. Pacific Command information, U.S. military flights in the region included:


• About 70 reconnaissance-assessment flights, resulting in roughly 570 hours flying time;


• More than 1,300 fixed-wing aircraft flights, resulting in more than 4,635 hours flying time; and


• More than 2,200 helicopter flights, resulting in more than 4,870 hours flying time.


In all, U.S. Pacific Command assets delivered or coordinated delivery of more than 24 million pounds of relief supplies and equipment into the region by Feb. 14, when Combined Support Force 536 ceased operations.
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