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Pakistan Relief Effort Reaches Major Milestones

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 20, 2006 – U.S. helicopters supporting earthquake relief efforts in Pakistan set a new record yesterday, delivering 232 tons of humanitarian aid for earthquake victims in a single day, U.S. embassy officials in Islamabad, Pakistan, reported today.

Twelve U.S. CH-47 Chinook helicopters assigned to U.S. Disaster Assistance Center Pakistan took advantage of clear skies as they flew their 3,400th mission in support of the relief effort.

The aircrews, flying out of Muzaffarabad and Chatterplain Airfield to the remote Neelum, Jelum and Allai valleys, have transported more than 9,000 tons of relief supplies since a deadly Oct. 8 earthquake left 73,000 people dead and more than 3,000 more homeless, officials said.

U.S. helicopter crews stepped up deliveries of relief supplies earlier this month as snowstorms started pummeling Pakistan's northern Kashmir region. To speed up the delivery process and increase the tonnage carried, they began using sling loads, external nets that hang below the aircraft.

The expedited delivery process now ensures that enough supplies are on hand at distribution centers in case weather interrupts future flight operations.

"These milestones tell us that we are on track," said Col. Bob Johnson, commander of Task Force Eagle, the U.S. helicopter relief force. "But what really matters is knowing there is a 30-day supply of food at the distribution centers."

Helicopter crews making the deliveries are among about 870 U.S. servicemembers in Pakistan supporting the host government by providing medical care, airlift capabilities and construction support for earthquake victims.

"This is one of the most rewarding assignments of my career," Johnson said. "Working with our colleagues in the Pakistan military and knowing that we are making a difference in the lives of earthquake victims has been an incredible experience."

Servicemembers supporting the effort are going above and beyond their assigned missions to help improve earthquake victims' lives. For example, U.S. Marines assigned to U.S. Disaster Assistance Center Pakistan gave 1,600 toys to disadvantaged children in Islamabad, including those displaced by the earthquake, embassy officials said.

The Marines distributed the toys, collected through the Marine Corps' Toys for Tots program, to children at the Federal Directorate for Education of the Ministry for Education relief camp, the Ministry for Social Welfare School for earthquake children, and the Pakistan Institute for Medical Services, officials said.

"Giving toys to children is just something we do," said Staff Sgt. Richard Gonzalez, from the Marine Detachment. "Every U.S. Marine wants to be a part of this. We want to make children smile."

Earlier this month, Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 4 adopted Kardala village, outside Muzaffarabad, as part of the Pakistan military's "adopt-a-village" program. The Seabees plan to build a boys high school and middle school in addition to temporary shelters.

The Seabees previously adopted the village of Miani Bondi, where they built five buildings now being used as a temporary girls high school and 70 temporary shelters.

"This is a coordinated, U.S. government response," Air Force Maj. Todd Vician, a Pentagon spokesman, said.

The military plans to continue humanitarian missions through the winter and by spring to shift its focus to reconstruction, Vician said. At that point, the U.S. Agency for International Development and nongovernmental organizations are expected to assume a greater role in the effort, he said.

Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush visited the earthquake-stricken region Jan. 17 as an envoy for the United Nations to review relief and reconstruction activities. Bush visited a U.S. Agency for International Development-funded school operating in a tent camp outside Islamabad and observed living conditions within the camp, embassy officials reported.

The former president praised the military, local communities and the international community for their support for the relief effort. "We should all support these kids so they can have a better future," he said.

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