Magazine article National Defense

U.S. Air Force Touts Success of African Flood Relief Effort

Magazine article National Defense

U.S. Air Force Touts Success of African Flood Relief Effort

Article excerpt

During the 1990s, the U.S. Air Force flew 250 humanitarian missions to more than 40 countries, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Joseph H. Wehrle Jr., deputy chief of staff for plans and programs. These efforts provided more than 339 million pounds of relief supplies, he recently told reporters on Capitol Hill.

Before coming to Washington, Wehrle served as commander of the Third Air Force, based in Mildenhall, England, from where he headed a relief effort that followed massive flooding in Mozambique, Africa.

After deploying to southern Africa, Wehrle supervised Joint Task Force Atlas Response, which carried more than 2 million pounds of relief supplies to the flood-ravaged southeastern African nation. Back-to back typhoons slammed into southeastern Africa, within 17 days of one another, causing the floods.

Wehrle noted that the relief campaign received "limited" media exposure in the United States, where most television networks were focused on the story of young Cuban castaway Elian Gonzales.

The month long relief campaign-between February and March this year- involved about 800 U.S. military personnel, said Wehrle.

Relief agencies and regional governments estimated that at least 2 million people were affected in Mozambique. Also, South Africa, Botswanna, and Zimbabwe all requested aid to help them recover from the devastating storms.

"The target was Mozambique and the enemy was Mother Nature," said Wehrle. "The joint operational area was nearly the size of the eastern United States, with all land west to eastern Texas and north to Michigan thrown in.

"Relief supplies were flown in [to South Africa] mainly by C-5s," Wehrle explained. "But they needed decent airfields where they could unload and supplies then could be transferred to C-I 30s for delivery to Mozambique."

The C-5s also brought in helicopters, HH-60s and MH-53s that were required to transport supplies into Mozambique's interior.

To avoid the appearance that the U.S. and European forces were taking over the situation, South Africa, which provided the primary relief role, was sent in first, Wehrle said. "Cooperation with other countries in the region proved to be the key to success. The United States was not the hero in this situation"

"We had to avoid looking like we didn't need anybody else," Wehrle continued. …

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