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Cpl. Eric Arndt, III MEF
UTAPHAO ROYAL THAI AIRFIELD, Thailand —
U.S. forces in Thailand shifted mission focus from Exercise Cobra Gold to Operation Caring Response May 12, sending the first of eight American humanitarian assistance flights to Burma, the nation devastated by a powerful storm May 2 that left thousands dead.
The aid f lights were initiated in response to an official request from the country’s military government, which had, for more than a week, stalled efforts by the U.S. government and a myriad of relief organizations to provide assistance in the wake of devastation left by Cyclone Nargis – a tropical storm that caused a reported 32,000 deaths.
A U.S. Air Force C-130 delivered the first six pallets of aid supplies May 12, including fresh drinking water, mosquito netting and blankets.
Two KC-130J aircraft from the Okinawa-based Marine Aerial Refueler Squadron 152 followed up the first flight with two more deliveries May 13.
Five more delivery flights were cleared May 14, and their deliveries brought the total amount of supplies delivered to 98 tons, according to U.S. of ficials in Thailand.
During a press conference prior to the first mission, U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Eric G. John noted that Burma’s cooperation with foreign aid agencies – and those able to transport the supplies – is critical to curbing further unnecessary deaths.
“It is important that we and the international community are allowed to help the victims of this unimaginable disaster,” John said. “The world has much to offer Burma in their greatest hour of need. We offer our hand in friendship. We offer our assistance without condition, and we offer food, clothing, shelter, medicine and expertise born of experience.
“... More has to get into Burma. More has to get to the areas hardest hit by this cataclysm.”
While the supplies were and are still needed in the cyclone-ravaged country, the flights were not just about sending relief, but the promise of more to come.
“The mission is really twofold,” said Air Force Capt. Trevor N. Hall, a pilot with the 36th Airlift Squadron, 374th Airlift Wing, 5th Air Force, as well as the mission’s aircraft commander. “The first part of the mission is obviously to take some humanitarian assistance to the people in Burma to help them out with the situation they’re in, but the second and maybe more important part of this mission is for the United States to extend a hand out to the government there and let them know we’re willing to help – to try and establish a relationship with them and make sure that we can continue to give them this kind of aid.”