Captain Provides Glimpse Into Relief Effort
By Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke
Special to American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., Oct. 2, 2009 A physician assistant from the Hawaii Air National Guard’s 154th Wing provided his unit at Hickam Air Force Base with a first-hand account from tsunami-torn American Samoa.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Carissa Maxson of the Hawaii Air National Guard studies the shorelines of Pago Pago, American Samoa, Oct. 1, 2009, while conducting assessments of the area after a tsunami stuck there Sept. 29. Maxson is with the 154th Medical Group's Chemical, Biological, Radiological/Nuclear and Explosives Enhanced Response Force Package. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Cohen A. Young
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
An 8.4 magnitude earthquake struck near the Samoa Islands Sept. 29, causing 15-to-20-foot-high waves to crash inland in the island chain that includes American Samoa, a U.S. possession.
Capt. Nathaniel Duff is a member of the medical team embedded with the CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Package that was on the first C-17 Globemaster III sent to American Samoa Sept. 30. CBRNE stands for the various threats the special force package is specially trained to meet: chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive.
The medical team’s mission is to perform medical triage and initial treatment, provide emergency medical treatment, stage for military and civilian evacuation and provide medical support to patient decontamination and search and extraction teams.
This is the text of an e-mail that Duff sent to his unit once he arrived in the tsunami-torn territory:
"Just finished de-briefing Day 1. Today, we broke our medical search and extraction teams into two groups. I was the designated medical team leader for the group that was deployed to the west side of American Samoa in a small village called Leone.
"Capt. [Jason] Iyomasa and Team 2 went toward Pago Pago. It was a simple fishing village that looked much like rural villages in southern Thailand. We contacted the village chief, who had been waiting since the tsunami hit for help. We were the first contact his village had with any government relief agency.
"The village included at least 30-50 families, a school and a temple/church. Very beautiful spot with clear water and a beach surrounded by lush, verdant forest covered mountains. It was absolutely devastated.
"Most of the village was in rubble and washed deep into the tropical mangrove forest up toward the mountains. Entire contents of homes, boats, full-size pick-up trucks and cars carried through the forest and up the mountainside. It must have been a tremendous wall of water to create that much damage.
"After talking with the village chief, we learned that a small, six-year-old boy was missing from his village and an 11-year-old girl was missing from an adjacent village. We set up an organized search grid and went out in five-man teams lead by a local villager into the hot, humid mangrove swamp. The entire area was easily over a mile wide and half-mile deep.
"The air stunk with human and animal excrement, hundreds of dead fish and animals, and rotting food and debris. It was very treacherous wading through knee-deep swamp and climbing over sharp debris with rusty nails, sheet metal, glass and all manner of house debris. We found over-turned trucks 500 yards deep into the jungle upside down in trees.
"The villagers all welcomed us and were grateful that we cared to stop and help, even though we were unsuccessful at locating their child today. The more seriously injured villagers had already been transported to the one hospital in the main town, so we provided basic first aid to any walking wounded, including a big, 300-pound muscular Samoan, nicknamed "The General," who was injured saving his wife from being washed away. He had three broken ribs and his left leg was swollen with infection from open sores and scrapes.
"We've planned two separate missions tomorrow. First, we'll be sending our search and extraction component along with more equipment for heavy lifting, search cameras, mapping equipment, communications, etc., back to Leone tomorrow.
"Second, we've stripped all gear from one CERFP trailer and restocked it specifically for a large medical mission north of Pago Pago. Capt. Iyomasa and Team 2 located a shelter apparently housing about 200 displaced villagers. We'll be setting up a field triage and first-aid station with the majority of our medical team including myself.
"Looks like we also may be hooking up with at least two Navy corpsmen to make this a joint medical effort. The Coast Guard also has a fairly large presence on that side of the island helping to manage the ocean and port damage and hazardous waste, etc.
"Things have been pretty chaotic, since we were essentially in the first wave of ‘boots-on-the-ground.’ It was very cool to know that we have been able to effectively operate our CERFP mission essentially within 24 hours of being called to duty from Hawaii.
"Logistics and communications have been difficult, to say the least, but everyone in our unit has risen to the challenge in unique ways. You should be very proud to see how mature and professional the CERFP team has performed, but especially our own 154th Medical Group team despite the long hours, heat, stress and emotional exhaustion."
(Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke serves at the National Guard Bureau.)