Team March bolsters Nepal earthquake relief efforts

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Russell S. McMillan
  • 452 AMW public affairs
Airmen from March Air Reserve Base sprang into action when the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) activated on Sunday an elite group of search and rescue personnel sponsored by the Los Angeles County Fire Department to deploy to Nepal in support of earthquake emergency rescue operations.

"I received a call from my duty officer around 5 p.m. asking us to come in," said Senior Airman Branden Foote, 50th Aerial Port Squadron, air transportation specialist. Foote joined other Airmen who extended their duty or volunteered on short notice to ensure an inbound C-17 Globemaster III from Joint Base Charleston, S.C., would be prepped and ready for transport to Nepal, which experienced a 7.8 magnitude earthquake Saturday.

The 57-person team bound for Nepal, known as the Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 2 (CA-TF2), is composed of firefighters, canine handlers, engineers and doctors, said John B. Tripp, LACFD north operations bureau deputy chief.

"USAID is the lead entity that coordinated and deployed a disaster response team (DART) to the region hours after the earthquake [in Nepal]," said Carol Han, USAID's OFDA communications team leader. "LA County's CA-TF2 was part of wave two due to the scope of the disaster."

According to a California Office of Emergency Services news release, CA-TF2 is one of eight specially-trained teams in California that carries sophisticated search equipment such as sonar detection devices, heavy concrete cutting equipment, chainsaws, search cameras and generators.

With only hours before the CA-TF2 team was slated to arrive at March Field, Airmen rallied to prepare for the challenge.

"We helped with load planning, identifying the equipment from their [CA-TF2] team, placarding and then loading equipment on the 60-K Loader," said Staff Sgt. Ernie Jimenez, 452nd Aerial Port Support Flight (APSF), air transportation craftsman.

Jimenez joined other members from the 452nd Logistics Readiness Squadron (LRS), plans office, fuels, 452nd Airlift Control Flight, 452nd Aerial Port Support Flight and the 50th and 56th Aerial Port Squadrons to coordinate operations.

It also helped that many Airmen had prior experience volunteering and assisting with relief efforts in the past.

"This is actually my fourth time," said Tech. Sgt. Shawn Terreault, APSF, air transportation specialist, referring to the number of relief efforts he's participated in. Terreault's, Jimenez's and other Airmen's experience supporting relief efforts include Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the Haiti earthquake, and the Japanese earthquake and subsequent Tsunami.

They also were able to better prepare as we had a member from the 452 ALCF in the CA-TF2's convoy of vehicles when they were en route to March ARB, said Maj. Mark Johnson, 452 LRS, operations officer and acting installation deployment officer. The ability to communicate the game plan early so they knew what to expect and where to go once they arrived on base, saved critical time. By the time the last CA-TF2 team member, and piece of equipment, was safe and secured on board, Team March Airmen were already ahead of the scheduled take-off time, Johnson said.

"I'm proud of the [452nd Air Mobility] Wing, said Senior Master Sgt. James Zubor, 452 LRS, air terminal manager. "Some took extra-long shifts to stay and some came back after work, but the whole wing stood up and supported everything that came our way. Not only did we tackle an almost impossible task, we got it off an hour early."

Part of Team March's success with the operation can be attributed to the proactive nature of its training. Airmen from March ARB and LACFD's CA-TF2 team recently completed a joint training exercise, code-named Patriot Hook, which specifically focuses on integrating operations between military and non-military emergency response personnel.

"A few years ago we started this exercise [Patriot Hook], and that has been huge," said Tripp.

Prior to the Patriot Hook exercises, Team March Airmen re-balanced and re-stacked pallets of equipment to correct issues, which resulted in lost time and effort.

"I got so much positive feedback on Patriot Hook this year and our relationship with March [ARB]," Tripp added. "It's just been awesome."

"We've had training with the L.A. County Fire [Department] and knew exactly what we needed tonight," said Jimenez, as he referred to how the joint training helped with the Nepal relief effort. "The coordination was seamless."

"Our goal was to do this safely, quickly and efficiently," said Johnson. "And that's exactly what we did."