Pakistan Flood Relief - 12 - 31 Aug 2010
"Boss, it's Cpl Speight from the standby team. We have been called out on a task, we leave for Pakistan in 10 Hrs."
Having received the call early on Thursday 12 Aug 2010, the 1 Air Mobility Wing (1AMW) standby team was stood-up to take part in the Pakistan flood relief effort. As a Very High Readiness Air Combat Service Support Unit (VHR ACSSU), 1AMW constantly has a team of 6 personnel on standby for emerging tasks. The Pakistan task highlights the variety of tasking 1AMW undertakes and its vital role in the wider Defence community.
Specific details of what we were going to do and when were at first sketchy, leaving us with the first hurdle; packing. As our detachment could last a week or a month and be based in one of three possible locations, it was a tough call between the bivvy sheet and the Bermuda shorts! Some opted to take every piece of kit detailed on the deployment list; other tailored the list to suit. As a result we arrive at Minhad Air Base in the United Arab Emirates with enough kit between the six of us to comfortably last for a 4-month det.
Having disembarked the aircraft, we were given a quick orientation and brief from the Duty Air Movements Officer (DAMO). This gave us a rough outline of what we could expect in the next few days however, as with all good plans things, changed almost immediately. Our first task was to be on a C-17 to Islamabad in the early hours of the following morning, delivering 30 tons of much needed aid. Having hardly had time to reach our accommodation and deposit our belongings, we were straight out to meet six 40ft lorries full of tents, food, medicine and supplies. The process of unloading the lorries started at midday and in temperatures approaching 50 degrees, the team immediately started to build, produce paperwork and prepare the freight for air transport.
With no acclimatisation training and having had little sleep since deploying, the team worked tirelessly for 12 hours, stopping only for water and sandwiches brought out to the working area. The majority of the freight was presented in a manner which meant it could be readily man-handled or fork-lifted onto aircraft pallets, all apart from the 137 tents! The tents were just slightly too wide for the pallets and sufficiently long so that two could not be placed end to end. As the team obviously wanted to send as many tents as possible, this lead to hours of building, un-building, collapsing and re-building until finally we were satisfied that the 'pyramid technique' was the optimal way in which to load the tents. With the preparation completed, a very tired but satisfied team retired for the night, some 36 hrs after leaving the UK.
With the aircraft due to depart in the early evening the team were out, loading the aircraft pallets several hours before. As the hard work had been completed the previous day this should have been relatively easy, or it would have been was it not for the scorching heat of the United Arab Emirates. Within minutes of starting the process of loading, the entire team was sweating profusely in the energy sapping heat. Morale was kept high however, as there was a constant supply of cold water, mars bars and encouraging comments from the assembled crowd of media. Having completed the load, the team settled down for the three hour flight to Islamabad.
Not knowing what to expect and with equal amounts of tension and excitement, the three hours passed exceptionally quickly. Having been instructed to take our helmets and body armour to Pakistan there was an understandable anxiety among the team as we started the descent. Flying into a disaster area at night time, in a strange country and not knowing what to expect when the doors open is a proposition which would make even the most experienced aid worker think twice. As a testament to the professionalism of the team, as soon as the aircraft came to a full and complete halt they sprang into action and worked enthusiastically for the 4 hours we were on the ground. The locals were also enthusiastic; very, in some instances. But with their help, the off-load was completed without any major incidents. Having removed the aid from the pallets and placed it into a storage hangar for onward distribution, the team back-loaded the empty aircraft pallets to the C-17 and readied the aircraft for departure. Thirty tons of aid was offloaded and dispatched in under 3 hours; a satisfying performance from a well-motivated team.
Having returned to Minhad, the team was informed that the next task might not take place for a few days, leaving them free to enjoy the local amenities. Minhad has excellent facilities which the team utilised to the full, partaking in equal amounts of gym activity and ice cream binges. Having received a phone call from the DAMO, the team were informed that the next task would take place on a C-130 Mk 4. This time we would be transporting 10 tons of plastic sheeting, a resource with a plethora of uses which would improve the quality of life for those affected by the disaster.
For the second task the un-loading of the lorries and preparation of freight for air transport was very straight forward. The freight all arrived in a manner which could be easily moved by forklift and importantly, during the cool of the evening. With the aircraft scheduled to depart again in the early evening, the team was out loading the aircraft by mid-day. By this time the team was much better prepared for the heat having had several days on the ground, therefore completing the on-load in short order. With a flying time of just under five hours and safe in the knowledge that we had been to Islamabad before, the team settled down for the flight.
On arrival there were significantly fewer people to greet us, possibly due to the fact that we were on a much smaller aircraft. Regardless, the locals were equally as pleased to see us and were extremely helpful. The team again off-loaded the aircraft without incident and completed the turn-around in just over one hour. With warm hand-shakes and some local curry, the team left Islamabad for the last time.
Although only providing support to 2 sorties, this task demonstrated the capability and diversity of duties which 1AMW can be called upon to complete. As a VHR ACSSU, 1AMW personnel relish the challenges presented by tasks such as the Pakistan flood relief. It can at times feel callous to take pleasure from a task generated by the suffering of others, but this is inevitably offset by the knowledge that the work is helping bring relief. With little information on which aircraft they would be operating on, even less detail on the actual dates, times and loads, the team deployed with little concrete information. The fact that 1AMW personnel constantly strive to deliver a professional service on behalf of the Defence community, is testament to their dedication and enthusiasm. All of the team members were rightly proud of the part they played in transporting vital aid to the disaster area. The next team has now been rotated into Minhad, with movements support to this disaster relief commitment continuing to be provided by 1AMW personnel.
Off M A Fulton
OC E Flt
Images and text (C) 1 AMW