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U.S. Pacific Command humanitarian relief effort underway in Nepal

  • Hawaii Air Guard Col. Robert Hoffman

U.S. Pacific Command has activated a more than 500-person task force to support Nepal with humanitarian relief following the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that hit the central part of the nation April 25, killing more than 7,500 people.

Some soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines from Hawaii are part of Joint Task Force 505, which will operate primarily out of Nepal but will also have support efforts in Thailand and Okinawa, said Maj. Robert Shuford, a spokesman for Pacific Command at Camp H.M. Smith.

The majority of the task force troops are out of Okinawa, Shuford said. 

A Hickam-based C-17 Globemaster III cargo jet, the Spirit of Kamehameha, arrived Tuesday in Kathmandu with the Air Force’s 36th Contingency Response Group and a 28-person team of pilots, mechanics, medical personnel and other airmen to provide aid to the country, according to the U.S. military.

The C-17 crew is mostly Hawaii Air National Guard members, but also includes active duty from Hickam, said Lt. Col. Chuck Anthony, a Hawaii National Guard spokesman. More than a dozen Hawaii Air Guard members are providing assistance in Nepal, Anthony said.

Hawaii Air Guard Col. Robert Hoffman, commander of the 109th Air Operations Group at Hickam, is helping manage the U.S. air effort in the country, Anthony said. The Nepalese government requested the U.S. government’s help following the devastating quake.  

“Many nations are involved in the assistance and we are here to receive all the aid from around the world,” Lt. Col. Glenn Rinehart, the commander of the 36th Mobility Response Squadron, said in a military-produced news story. “We also alleviate some of the backlog to efficiently get supplies to the people who need it the most.”

Lt. Gen. John Wissler, commander of the III Marine Expeditionary Force, was designated as the JTF-505 commander by Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, head of U.S. Pacific Command, effective Wednesday.

The task force follows the initial U.S. military response to support the government of Nepal, adding to efforts already underway by the Joint Humanitarian Assistance Survey Team and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

"We are here at the request of, and in support of, the government of Nepal as they deal with this terrible tragedy," Wissler said in a release. "We will continue to provide support as part of the overall U.S. government and international response as long as our unique capabilities can support the government of Nepal and remain in partnership with the Nepalese army."

The task force will initially support ongoing disaster relief operations with a U.S. Air Force contingency response group, three Marine Corps UH-1Y Huey helicopters, four Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, four Air Force C-17 aircraft and two Marine Corps KC-130J Hercules transport aircraft, as well as various ground and aviation command and control capabilities, the military said.

Four Marine Corps Ospreys arrived Sunday in Nepal to support relief efforts.

On April 29, the U.S. military deployed a 20-person Joint Humanitarian Assistance Survey Team led by Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy to support the USAID’S response efforts, the military said.

"The MV-22B Osprey is the ideal aircraft for this type of (humanitarian assistance) mission,” Kennedy said in a release. “With its medium-lift capacity and ability to cover large distances in a reduced amount of time, we’ll be able to ferry supplies to outlying villages for Nepalese forces and (non-governmental organizations) to distribute.”  

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