Snowbirds? Not quite

  • Published
  • By Maj. Craig Reichert
  • 183rd Air Support Squadron
Ever want to "just get away" from the winter weather we have been experiencing and become a "Snowbird" in the warm weather of Tucson, Arizona? Senior Master Sgt. Jackie Riddle, Master Sgt. Mark Lee, Staff Sgt. Doug Adams and I were given this opportunity in mid-January. Or were we? We departed Springfield on Jan. 19 knowing full well that this would be no vacation as we traveled to 12th Air Force (AF) Headquarters in support of Operation Unified Response.

Operation Unified Response was the name given to the joint operation in the wake of the devastating earthquake that rattled Haiti. An earthquake leveled the nation and created death and destruction unparalleled from any known natural disaster in the western hemisphere. In its aftermath, the survivors struggled daily to find potable water, food, and shelter. All of us know these are the foundations of survival and they were taken away in seconds. Our job as Air Support Squadron Logistics and Air Mobility Operations Squadron career fields was to simply start the efficient flow of these lifesaving goods into Haiti while ensuring the U.S. military and our international counterparts on the ground received necessary support to accomplish the mission.

Upon arriving late in Tucson, we proceeded to check in at the hotel and all agreed that an 0700 departure for the headquarters building was in order. If we were there to help, we had better get to it. Time was critical in this operation and the boots on the ground were as much in need of water and food as the Haitians. The 12th AF staff were superb in orienting us to our duties. We soon met our counterparts with whom we would work hand-in-hand for the next 22 days. They had many logistical processes in place similar to the Critical Action Planning phase of Blue Flag which many of us had attended in December. This just emphasizes the "train like you fight" motto. In this operation there would thankfully be no fight, just the all important need for humanitarian aid.

Operations for the four of us consisted of 12 to 14 hour shifts as the 24-hour operations continued right up until our departure. In my 19-year career, I can not remember the operations tempo of any exercise or real-world contingency being this high. One day off a week was the standing rule, but I would be surprised if any of us saw that. To the best of my knowledge, not one of our deployed members so much as said a word about it; a testament to their dedication to the mission. We knew we were there for a humanitarian mission and many people were in much worse conditions than us. The professionalism of those I deployed with is second to none.

Senior Master Sgt. Jackie Riddle filled the role of Supply and did an outstanding job. In addition, she managed to round up some much needed laundry detergent that we all shared for the entire trip. Master Sgt. Mark Lee worked Petroleum, Oils and Lubricants. He and his counterpart were tasked with the huge responsibility of ensuring fuel was available not only for the aircraft transiting Port Au Prince, but also all of the ground equipment. Staff Sgt. Doug Adams was superb in his role of Air Mobility Transportation. It was not uncommon to hear him on the phone with the Tanker Airlift Control Center at Scott AFB, Ill., ensuring the transport of equipment or load planning an aircraft.

With the operations tempo beginning to slow and the 12th AF returning to normal, we were allowed to return to our civilian and military jobs back home. I speak for all of us when I say we have come back with a broader knowledge of our real-world military roles. Having spoken with our counterparts on the ground in Haiti, this mission was and continues to be a huge success. There are still enormous obstacles to overcome in Haiti, but the 12th AF and 183rd Fighter Wing are proud to have been a part in the success of the on-going mission.