Aid Effort 'Making a Lot of Progress,' Says AF Officer
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2005 Servicemembers deployed across south and southeast Asia remain busy "providing literally tons of relief" supplies to impoverished victims of the Dec. 26 tsunami, a U.S. officer reported today from Utapao, Thailand.
U.S. sailors, Marines and airmen continued the massive airlift and sealift of food, medicine and water earmarked for Indonesians, Thais, Sri Lankans and others whose homes and businesses were washed away, Air Force Col. Mark Schissler noted during a Pentagon Channel interview.
"We're making a lot of progress," said Schissler, commander of the 374th Air Expeditionary Wing. Operation Unified Assistance recovery efforts, he noted, already have made much headway in Sri Lanka and Thailand.
Yet, he said, relief workers are "still working hard to get enough food into Indonesia," which was hardest hit by the natural disaster. The tsunami killed at least 150,000 people across the region; an estimated 100,000 of those victims have died in Indonesia.
The mission's key priority is "stopping suffering where it's still going on," Schissler pointed out. Many people living on the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, remain displaced and homeless. Efforts are ongoing to provide food, water and other aid to those victims, he said.
U.S. military members were hurriedly called away from their families to participate in the operation. But "that doesn't distract us much from the job at hand," the colonel emphasized.
"When you get out and do the mission," Schissler explained, "you find that you're providing direct aid" to people in need. Such work "is very rewarding."
The colonel "couldn't be more proud" of the response of the U.S. airmen, sailors and Marines. He pointed to a group of servicemembers based in Yokota, Japan, who'd joined the relief effort after just returning from a tour in the Middle East.
"We asked them if they would deploy with us," Schissler recalled, and he said their answer "was universally, 'Yes.'" Servicemembers, he said, get "an extra boost" to their morale when they deploy on humanitarian missions.
"There's a certain sense of satisfaction at the end of the day when you know that you've helped people during the day while you're doing your military job," he concluded.