News: Black Hawks up, bring aid to Pakistan’s north
Story by Spc. Reese Von Rogatsz
GHAZI AVIATION BASE, Pakistan – The eight Black Hawk helicopters of Task Force Denali - and the soldiers who crew them - play a significant part in the humanitarian assistance and flood relief efforts currently underway in Pakistan’s northern Swat and Kohistan valleys.
Despite the signs of devastation which act as a constant reminder of the sobering nature of the mission and the hardships of those whose livelihood has been swept away by the raging waters, there is a rugged splendor to be appreciated in the surroundings.
“It’s some of the most beautiful flying I’ve experienced,” said Staff Sgt. Blair Foreman, technical inspector/crew chief, 1-52 General Support Aviation Battalion, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade.
“It feels like the Colorado Rockies with South Korean landscaping.”
Clarifying, he describes how the inhabitants of the region, much as in Korea with its numerous farms, have cut ledges into the mountainsides for the planting and harvesting of crops.
From the air, it is a memorable sight. Imagine a ladder ascending, neat rows of corn stalks stair-stepping from low to high, a ribbon of water twisting through a valley below, mountain peaks and blue sky above.
Yet, here and there signs of the devastation, a bridge in tatters, a section of winding road in rubble where it came to rest after sliding down the face of a mountain, dilapidated structures which were once home and hearth.
During mission flights, Foreman’s main job consists of supervising the loading and unloading of humanitarian aid aboard the aircraft while the locals supply the labor. In his view, it acts as an enabling mechanism for those affected by the disaster:
“It’s a morale-booster to be able to help yourself, it makes you feel better, [gives] you a sense of control.”
While the language barrier limits communication, hand signals and the universal thumbs-up sign speak volumes. In Kohistan valley, where the landing zones are more challenging, the people seem more appreciative, said Foreman, “I think they were more cut off.”
In general, the higher the elevation, the more remote and isolated a landing zone, the greater seems to be the reliance on TF Denali’s flights.
“I just came back from Iraq in February and volunteered to come on this mission because it’s a totally different environment,” said Sgt. Carlos Martinez, crew chief, Delta 123 company, 16th CAB.
He finds that the looks on the faces of the people, the elderly and children in particular, make the personal sacrifices, the separation from his own family, easier to bear. He has children of his own.
“[The locals] greet you, they accept you, they’re excited somebody is there for them,” Martinez said.
According to Chief Warrant Officer Jason Burke, maintenance test pilot, Delta 123 company, 16th CAB, improvements to the devastated infrastructure have steadily become more visible over the course of the last few weeks. The crews have observed signs of increased vehicle traffic on the roads.
There is progress.
The mission continues.