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Last updateSat, 23 Mar 2019 12am







    Friday, March 22, 2019-12:45:14A.M.






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Guam-based forces facilitate aerial relief efforts

(Commander, Task Force West-Public Affairs Office) — As Super Typhoon Yutu battered the islands of Saipan and Tinian Oct. 24-25 with the strongest winds to ever strike the Mariana Islands, the community sheltered in reinforced structures designed to withstand the worst.

Nearly every building in Yutu’s path suffered damage, to include Saipan’s Francisco C. Ada International Airport. Windows shattered, steel buckled and reinforced concrete gave way to the might of the second most powerful storm in U.S. history.

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Members of the 36th Contingency Response Group at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam discuss air operations as a U.S. Air Force C-130J Super Hercules aircraft prepares to take-off in Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands on Oct. 31, 2018.  U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. JT May III

Among the damage was Saipan’s air traffic control tower, which was rendered inoperable after the windows were blown in and the electronic equipment was exposed to the elements. As the tower underwent temporary repairs, the U.S. Air Force facilitated ground to air communications for the newly-established air bridge between Guam and Saipan.

A temporary communications system has been installed at the tower and air traffic control has been returned to civilian authorities at Saipan’s Francisco C. Ada International Airport but a dozen service members remain to coordinate the flow of materials, equipment and personnel to the CNMI.

Operating on the ground underneath the mangled remains of the passenger loading bridge for Gate One is a team of Guam-based Airmen who have worked 16-hour shifts since they hit the ground the day after Yutu struck.

To date, the 36th Contingency Response Group, 36th Logistics Readiness Squadron and 36th Force Support Squadron have been responsible for communication on the apron, aircraft refueling, vehicles maintenance, accountability for Air Force personnel who deplane, offloading aircraft, staging of offloaded supplies and their subsequent loading onto trucks for distribution.

Master Sgt. Jamie Almquist of the 36th CRG explained his team had less than a day to prepare for the relief efforts in Saipan. “We got the call to prepare for this mission Thursday, Oct. 25 at 11 a.m. and went wheels up Friday, Oct. 26 at 6 a.m.,” he said.

Almquist’s team has pulled 14- to 16-hour shifts since they arrived in Saipan. While flight operations are limited to daylight hours, the service members remain after dark to help the Federal Emergency Management Agency load the trucks that take the supplies to the staging areas.

As of Nov. 4, Almquist and his team have successfully processed 619 personnel and 2.2 million pounds of relief materials on 101 flights.

These flights consist of a variety of aircraft to include helicopters, C-17 Globemaster IIIs, C-130 type (usually Combat King or Hercules), and cargo versions of the Boeing 747, Antonov and Ilyushin.

What has quickly become the busiest airport in Micronesia requires seamless coordination between local and military personnel, especially now that limited commercial operations have resumed in Saipan.

“We’re currently working with the Commonwealth Ports Authority Air Operations to deconflict the military airlift operations from the commercial side,” said Almquist. “We maximize ramp space for the supplies and ensure there’s ample access to commercial carriers and operations.”

All units on the island are here as part of Task Force-West, which was stood up by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and is responding to the devastation caused by Super Typhoon Yutu, which struck Oct. 24-25 over the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Super Typhoon Yutu was the second strongest system to hit U.S. soil in recorded history.

TF-W is providing support to CNMI's civil and local officials as part of FEMA-supported recovery efforts, which began Oct. 25 immediately following the storm.

TF-W is divided into Task Group Saipan and Task Group Tinian, and comprises more than 800 active duty, Reserve and Guard service members from more than 20 different units across all branches of services within USINDOPACOM.