Delivering hope

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Samuel Taylor
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
America's history of delivering humanitarian aid is a storied one.

America delivered when the German Democratic Republic was starving the people of Western Berlin in 1948, when East Pakistan, (now Bangladesh), suffered the deadliest tropical cyclone ever recorded in 1970, and when a catastrophic earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010.

The most recent chapter in America's support for its neighbors was written in part by five members of Dover Air Force Base, Del.'s 3rd Airlift Squadron, who came to the aid of Japan as they delivered more than 71,000 pounds of humanitarian aid and a search-and-rescue team to Misawa Air Base, Japan, following the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the country on March 11, 2011.

The crew, consisting of Capt. Matt Tarnowski, C-17 aircraft commander, 1st Lt. T.J. Jastrab, C-17 pilot, Staff Sgt. Ryan Thompson, C-17 loadmaster, Staff. Sgt. Nick Kolesnikov, C-17 loadmaster and Tech. Sgt. Avanti Berucki, 736th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron C-17 crew chief, began the non-stop, 15-hour flight at approximately 11 a.m. on March 12, 2011, at Dover AFB. The crew had been placed on emergency status, or bravo status, the day before and began their mission within mere hours of being notified.

"Anytime we get to fly, especially on humanitarian missions, it's exciting," said Captain Tarnowski. "It culminates all the training we go through, and you get to see the direct, immediate impact of your work."

The crew initially flew to Joint Base Andrews, Md., to receive the cargo, which consisted in part of food and water, rescue supplies and medical supplies. Loadmasters at JBA loaded the palettes onto the crew's C-17 in approximately 45 minutes. The C-17 crossed the United States and took on more than 110,000 pounds of fuel mid-flight from a KC-130 dispatched from Travis AFB, Calif.

"It blows me away that mid-flight refueling happens so seamlessly," said Captain Tarnowski. "All the coordination that goes on behind the scenes makes it possible for two planes to meet up at the same place at the same time."

Throughout the course of the flight, the pilots alternated between actively flying the plane and resting.

"Our crew was an augmented crew," said Captain Tarnowski. "This means that we have the ability to keep flying for 24-hours straight."

While flying over Japan, Captain Tarnowski noticed signs of the destruction caused by the earthquake and flooding.

"It was night when we made our approach so we couldn't see the physical destruction, however there definitely was an absence of lights across the landscape," said Captain Tarnowski.

Misawa AB was also dealing with the effects of the disaster, suffering from power-outages and running on minimal energy. However, to the crew, it was a routine landing.

"The controllers were great, the radar was up, and we received correct vectors for our precision instruments - everything was normal for us coming in," said Captain Tarnowski. "Misawa needs to be commended - they're making things happen."

When the plane reached Misawa AB, loadmasters unloaded and transported the cargo in approximately two hours. It was here the crew interacted with the Japanese nationals who endured the disaster only a day before.

"I was very impressed by the hardiness of the Japanese people," said Captain Tarnowski. "One day after their country was devastated they were back and working hard - you could see the appreciation of our help on their faces."

The crew rested for approximately eight hours and promptly began the return trip home. They landed at approximately 9 p.m. on March 14, 2011, at Dover AFB where they enjoyed some well-deserved rest.

"It was an honor to be a part of this mission," said Lieutenant Jastrab. "It's good to know your training is going towards saving lives."

Though the story of America's support of Japan through their trying ordeal is just beginning, it is Dover AFB's Airmen who have written the first chapter - and wrote it well.