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A look back at tsunami relief efforts

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Genieve David
  • 75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Dec. 26 marked the one-year anniversary of one of the most devastating natural disasters ever to pierce the heart of 12 countries in Southeast Asia. It's hard to believe that it has already been a year since the tsunami killed more than 300,000 people and irrevocably changed the lives of scores of others who lost family members, their homes and livelihoods.

As I think back to this difficult time, I remember returning to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam from my technical training school in Maryland, days before the disaster struck. My husband and I celebrated the holidays and while hearing the news the next day, I knew the Air Force would be deploying forces from the Pacific Command area of responsibility to help with the situation. Little did I know, that I would become part of the Air Force forces deploying first. As a second lieutenant, I was also the first public affairs officer on the ground -- paving the way for media operations in this effort.

Even though I had just returned from a three-month separation from my husband and had only spent one day with him, I was ready to turn around and deploy to Thailand. Since my husband, Ben, is an aerial porter, he loaded our equipment and sent me off on the aircraft with a personal goodbye. I knew he was a little disappointed, but we both knew this was for a good cause and the Air Force would be saving lives.

After a seven-hour flight, we arrived late that evening in Utapao, Thailand. I remember getting ready the following morning, while watching the news. The international news was mocking the U.S. Forces. "Where is the U.S.?" and I remember saying out loud, "We're right here - we are coming."

I remember how difficult it was to set up the Combined Support Force 536. Everyone was running around; it was hectic and a logistical nightmare. But rest assured, when Air Force people work together you can count on the job getting done.

When I was finally able to call my husband on the phone, I told him how bad we needed people with his expertise in theater. In the first couple of days we had vast amounts of supplies coming in; we just didn't have the aerial port personnel and their equipment with us to download the tons of essential supplies that would eventually save lives. I told him we really needed him here.

The next day, my husband told me via e-mail that he and several other aerial porters were deploying to Thailand to help. I was excited that a husband-and-wife team could take on this humanitarian effort together.

Eventually the publicity of the tragedy was also expressed to the masses and overwhelming support from the United States and other countries poured in more than $1 billion in donations.

I was disheartened, however, when in late September our own country was hit with Hurricane Katrina which caused levies in New Orleans to capsize. In viewing the news, it was a familiar scene -- displaced, deceased people in the streets; confusion; devastation of property; and, an outcry of, "Where are the U.S. troops?"

The U.S. military again received a lot of criticism in the press, but being in a similar situation and seeing first-hand all the preparations and logistical planning that goes into an enormous relief operation, I knew something like the Katrina aftermath would take time.

In the case of both these disasters, the U.S. military responded quickly and played a key role in initial rescue and recovery operations. We can all be proud of our efforts. Americans, as usual, have been very generous as well and donations to help the victims of both tragedies have poured in.

Unfortunately, things are still not back to normal for the people most affected. Our thoughts and prayers still need to go out to these people, and so do our financial contributions. Four out of five people in the Southeast Asia areas affected by the tsunami are still living in tents, and our brothers and sisters in the areas affected by Katrina are also still struggling, and trying to pick up the pieces of their lives and continue on.

These people still need our help to rebuild their lives! To help, please consider making a donation. Our military support can continue on!