NEWS | Oct. 12, 2007

U.S. plays key role in Nicaraguan relief efforts

By 1st Lt. Erika Yepsen Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

A team of U.S. servicemembers deployed here from Joint Task Force-Bravo in Honduras late last week and is continuing U.S. military support to international relief operations in Nicaragua in the wake of Hurricane Felix.

Since U.S. military support began Sept. 5, troops have delivered more than 300,000 pounds of U.S. aid.

In addition to the Joint Task Force-Bravo team, which deployed with two UH-60 helicopters, aircraft from Brazil, Spain, Honduras and Venezuela are buzzing the airstrip in Puerto Cabezas as they bring relief supplies in from Managua and out to further outlying areas in Nicaragua.

"Bringing relief to the Nicaraguan people is a team effort," said Maj. Jason Clark, the operations officer for the team deployed to Puerto Cabezas. "The U.S. team is the State Department's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the Department of Defense, but there are also teams that are helping move supplies or donating supplies from Nicaragua, Venezuela, El Salvador and many other countries. We're all working together to help the Nicaraguan people recover from this tragedy."

A Marine Corps KC-130 has joined the JTF-B servicemembers' mission, transporting fuel to the task force's forward operating location here for the team's helicopters. Additionally, on Sunday the Marine Corps aircraft transported six pallets of donated beds from El Salvador to Puerto Cabezas.

"Disasters have different phases," said Ricardo Herrera, the team leader for OFDA in Puerto Cabezas. "The United States is involved in all the phases from the emergency, which is the first 72 hours, through the rebuilding phase."

In the first phase, the things people need most are food, water and shelter, said Mr. Herrera, noting that those items are the first that were distributed here by U.S. personnel. Working with the U.S. military personnel from JTF-Bravo, OFDA has managed to distribute nearly 25,000 pounds of food a day for the past three days.

U.S. military support to Felix relief efforts began Sept. 5, following a request for help from the government of Nicaragua.

U.S. Southern Command, in coordination with the U.S. State Department and USAID, directed the amphibious ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) and a disaster relief assessment team from Joint Task Force-Bravo to Puerto Cabezas -- the area on the northeast Nicaraguan coast where most of the U.S. aid efforts were based.

Helicopters embarked on Wasp and attached to Joint Task Force-Bravo, including CH-47 Chinooks, MH-53 Sea Dragons and SH-60 Seahawks, flew dozens of sorties over the weekend conducting search and rescue missions and transporting essential aid from Managua to Puerto Cabezas and other outlying communities. A U.S. Air Force C-130 also transported 25,000 pounds of USAID aid from Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla. on Sept. 8.

On Sept. 9, USS Samuel B. Roberts and its two embarked SH-60 Seahawk helicopters relieved Wasp and supported relief operations through Sept. 13.

U.S. Southern Command military planners continue to work with interagency partners and their counterparts in countries affected by Felix to assess recovery needs in the affected areas and identify additional U.S. military units that may be able to provide assistance.