Connecticut Airmen Provide Command and Control Support for Haiti Relief Efforts

  • Published
  • By Capt. Bryon Turner
  • 103rd Air and Space Operations Group
Two members of the 103rd Air and Space Operations Group who deployed to get critical on the job training now shift their focus to supporting the ongoing humanitarian mission in Haiti in the wake of the massive earthquake that devastated the island Jan. 12.

"We've been sending our folks to other locations to get on the job mission qualification training for a while now," said Col. Peter DePatie, commander, 103rd AOG. "They get real world experience and learn by doing; in this case, they've been afforded a unique opportunity to learn while supporting a critical humanitarian mission."

Airman 1st Class Mitchell D. Smith, a command post apprentice assigned with the 103rd AOG, is deployed to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., where he is completing his 5-level AFSC training while serving as a command post controller. Smith's routine duties and training quickly shifted gears on the morning of Jan. 12.

"We normally have a very high ops tempo here at McGuire Command Post, but during the past two weeks the tempo went up with the start of Haiti Earthquake Operations," said Staff Sgt. Ivan T. Phillips, command post training manager, 87th Air Base Wing.

The training wheels were off, and Smith went to work coordinating outgoing and incoming airlift missions in support of the relief efforts in Haiti.

"It feels good, I'm not just training any more I'm doing my job, this isn't an exercise," said Smith. "I have a chance to contribute and help out."

As a command post controller, Smith coordinates the moving parts that go on behind the scenes whenever aircraft depart and return, interfacing with aircraft maintainers, fuels troops, the aerial port, aircrew schedulers and other agencies.

"A1C Smith was instrumental in helping to coordinate air refueling control times for more than 20 of our KC-10 missions supporting Haiti Ops," said Phillips. "He provided non-stop command and control for seven Northeast Tanker Task Force missions which provided Presidential support."

"(Smith's) invaluable assistance kept our team from getting quickly overwhelmed," said Chief Master Sgt. Steven J. Rocker, superintendent, 87th Air Base Wing's Wing Staff Agency. "Ultimately, we took in over 500 refugees during his time here."

After "blazing through" Smith's 5-level upgrade training, evaluating his contributions to the operations at the 87th ABW and listing his efforts to assist the Haiti relief mission, Phillips gave Smith a glowing review.

"A1C Smith is a definite asset to our career field and will make an impact where ever he goes," said Phillips. "You are welcome to send your controllers here anytime for proficiency training."

While Smith made his contributions to Haiti relief efforts, another member of the 103rd AOG was focused on the scenes unfolding throughout.

Airman 1st Class Tori E. Hendrix, an image and geospatial analyst assigned to the 103rd AOG, is deployed to the 117th Intelligence Squadron, Birmingham, AL. Hendrix's efforts to support operations conducted elsewhere on the globe were re-directed shortly after the earthquake in Haiti when she was re-assigned as the lead analyst for Operation UNIFIED RESPONSE.

"A1C Hendrix provided invaluable assistance in organizing the mission," said Tech. Sgt. David Kirchner, program manager for geospatial support. "Her imagery and geospatial skills (enabled us) to meet the needs of (our) customers."

Hendrix utilized imagery captured by satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles operating over the skies of earthquake-ravaged Haiti to locate and quantify displaced persons in Port-au-Prince over the week following the disaster.

"We were tasked to locate all of the open places in the city where large groups of displaced persons would gather," said Hendrix.

Hendrix worked to calculate the number of people at approximately 80 different locations across the city and produced detailed intelligence products crucial to the planning and execution of Haiti relief efforts. The estimates were used to determine how to best distribute food drops across the affected area.

"It was an incredible opportunity to participate in this mission," said Hendrix. "Knowing that the Intel we provided was put to direct use in getting the displaced persons of Port-au-Prince the aid they required was beyond rewarding."