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Team Tinker participates in humanitarian relief mission to Panama

  • Published
  • By Clayton Cummins, 72nd ABW Public Affairs and Julian Hernandez, 433rd AW Public Affairs

Airmen at the 72nd Logistics Readiness Squadron played a major role in delivering humanitarian relief to Panama utilizing the Air Force’s largest airframe.

Following the arrival of a C-5M Super Galaxy at Tinker Air Force Base May 31, 2024, 72nd LRS assisted airmen from the 433rd Airlift Wing in loading 166,000lbs. of food to be delivered to Panama Pacifico International Airport, just outside Panama City, as part of a humanitarian relief mission.

The mission falls under the Department of Defense’s Denton Humanitarian Assistance Program, which moves humanitarian cargo, donated by U.S. based Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), to developing nations to ease human suffering. Approved cargo is transported by DOD land, air or sea assets on a space-available basis.

“This was our largest humanitarian aid effort to date,” said Michael Frasco, 72nd LRS Distribution and Deployments flight chief. “It is incredibly satisfying to know that the efforts in the LRS help solve food insecurities in nations that desperately need aid.”

“Everyday we have a mission is a good day, especially so when it’s to help up lift those in need,” said SrA William Hall, an Air Terminal Function Journeyman, who assisted in loading cargo. “Though it’s not our primary mission here at Tinker, being able to support the Denton cargo mission is wonderful. We get to be a part of something greater, helping to move life sustaining food to our neighbors.”

Pastor Ron Spradlin heads up Abundant Rain Ministries in Coweta, Oklahoma, and spent months collecting donations from across the country to put this shipment together. He’s spent more than two decades working to feed those in need at home and abroad in places like Panama.

"The poverty there just hit me so hard,” Spradlin said. “In the United States we have hunger, but here they have starvation. There's a great difference between missing one or two meals a week, and actually starving to death."

“It does something to you when you walk into an area and they show you a baby dying of starvation,” Spradlin said. “You just can't shake it. Most people either try to forget about it because they're traumatized by it, or we can try to do something about it.” 

According to the Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook, at least 21.5% percent of people in Panama were living below the poverty line as of 2019. Conditions significantly worsened during the COVID 19 Pandemic.

It is estimated that the 166,000 pounds of aid delivered could help feed up to 1.1 million people. Meals consist of fortified rice, protein-packed soybeans, and dehydrated vegetables for additional vitamins and minerals.  

For Staff Sgt. Thomas Riojas, a 68th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, handling cargo that can tangibly improve the lives of so many people was particularly fulfilling.

“It was better than a normal mission, because it was rewarding to see their excitement firsthand,” Riojas said. “It felt good to meet the aid workers, show them the aircraft, and give them a chance to see how the aid comes in.”

Master Sgt. Daniel Parsons, a 68th Airlift Squadron flight engineer, also recognized this mission rose above the aircrew’s normal battle rhythm.

“This may look like just another weekend trip on the Air Force Reserve Command scheduling board,” Parsons said. “But it was an extremely rewarding mission. We moved 20 pallets of food more than 2,000 miles, and it really makes you proud to know you helped get this food to the people who need it.”

Within 48 hours of delivery, King’s Castle Foundation had already started distributing the food to people in need.