Coordinators Work to Facilitate Relief Flights
By Judith Snyderman
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 22, 2010 U.S. military officials are working across organizational boundaries in a concerted effort to keep supplies and people flowing into Haiti's main airport, Air Force officers said yesterday.
"Port-au-Prince is the center of gravity for the relief effort currently in Haiti,” said Lt. Col. Brad Graff of the 601st Air and Space Operations Center at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., during a “DoDLive” bloggers roundtable. “If something happens to that airfield, we are in trouble to get supplies there until the sea pods are open."
Graff said he’s aware of frustration expressed by relief groups requesting flight landing slots, but he noted the Port-au-Prince airport is running “24/7” and is averaging 140 flights a day.
“We've tripled the flow through that field, so your chances of getting in are better now than ever,” he said. “You just do need to follow the procedures that are in place.”
Graff said the procedures aren’t meant to limit the airfield. “We like to think of ourselves as facilitators that are allowing people to get in there in a more-timely manner,” he said.
Air Force Col. John Romero, chief of the air mobility division for the 612th Air and Space Operations Center at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., also participated in the discussion. He explained that the command structure brings the full breadth of U.S. military expertise to the table to keep operations in Haiti running quickly and safely.
Due to the emergency, Romero said, his organization -- which usually supports U.S Southern Command, is supported by the 601st, which normally handles U.S. Northern Command’s area. U.S. Southern Command is in charge of the Defense Department’s Haiti mission.
“We are working in concert with the 601st air operations center, who really has the role of the Haiti flight operations coordination center,” Romero said. “They are really the individual entity that is managing the slot times into Port-au-Prince airport.”
Air Force Maj. David Smith, who reports to Graff, added that the 601st flight operations coordination center was set up from lessons learned in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Smith said having a single point of coordination is a strategy that proved effective during recent relief efforts for Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.
During those hurricane missions, the 612th established liaisons with the Federal Aviation Administration. Romero said he has brought those relationships to bear in support of the Haiti mission to ensure safety at the Port-au-Prince airport.
Romero said the 612th is controlling U.S. military aircraft carrying military supplies and personnel into Haiti, and that those missions follow the same procedures as everyone else to request time slots for landing, with no special priorities.
Options for bringing relief to Haiti are expanding, Romero said. Canada is operating a small Haitian airstrip at Jacmel, and officials of the U.S. Air Force’s Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., coordinated two successful air deliveries yesterday.
“They did a fantastic job; on time, on target - 40 bundles for each aircraft at two different locations, delivering humanitarian relief supplies to the people there in Haiti of water and meals,” he said.
Graff has reached out to Haiti’s neighbor, the Dominican Republic. “They have been more than helpful in opening up other areas that we can now flow relief supplies into,” he said. Dominican Republic officials are expected to allow use of San Isidro Airport outside Santo Domingo and Maria Montez airport in Barahona.
“We are doing the best we can, working with the individuals on the ground, to make sure that the right priorities are identified and that we can flow those priorities [into Haiti],” he said. “But I want everyone to know we want to do that safely.”
(Judith Snyderman works in the Defense Media Activity’s emerging media directorate.)