Operation Unified Response-Haiti Relief
By Captain Katrina Hightower, 125FW RC-26B Operations
/ Published May 06, 2010
February, 2010 -- January 12, 2010, a 7.7 magnitude devastated the city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. While the epicenter was located 25 miles to the west, the destruction suffered by the city was tremendous. The Haitian government initially estimated the death toll in the 230,000 range. Over 300,000 people were injured with over one million left homeless.
Among the first assets called for assistance was the Air National Guard's RC-26B. Crews from several states banded together for the short-notice tasking from U.S. Southern Command. The aircraft was tasked to provide imagery and video downlink to assist in the initial arduous relief efforts. Daily missions included locating Helicopter Landing Zones (HLZs), areas of civil unrest, potential locations to build tent cities, convoy route escort and reconnaissance as well as security over-watch for the convoys.
Captain Bryan Dues, an RC-26B Mission Systems Operator from the 125th Fighter Wing, was the first to forward deploy to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. The RC-26B crews were required to stage in the Dominican Republic due to the limited aircraft parking constraints in Haiti and an extreme shortage of fuel there.
Dues and his crew landed the first RC-26B on the northwest coast of the Dominican Republic on Jan. 22 and were flying their first support mission two days later. Average flights lasted five hours where the crews provided four hours of surveillance time. "I felt like we made a huge difference in the relief efforts. From the air, we have such a commanding view that can really speed the process up of such a tremendous challenge," said Dues.
Lt. Col. Mike Prinzi and Lt. Col. Damon Boehmer rotated in to replace crews Feb. 7. After the initial wave of missions, "efforts transitioned to tent accountability and relief site monitoring," said Boehmer. "You could see the growth of the tent cities and visibly see the improvements, which makes our mission immediately gratifying to us."
The 125th Fighter Wing's RC-26B crews have consistently been among the first called for national disasters and relief efforts. While the RC-26B has a critical OCONUS mission in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, crews simultaneously support numerous stateside and homeland defense crisis and are proud to do so.