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Air Guard to the Rescue After Peru Quake

Tech. Sgt. Wilbert Morales and Senior Airman Brandon Krantz, both loadmasters
from the Maryland Air National Guard, help Peruvian aid workers unload blankets from a C-130 aircraft Aug. 18, 2007, in Pisco, Peru, in the aftermath of an 8.0 magnitude earthquake that struck the area Aug. 15. Photo by US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Lock.

Tech. Sgt. Wilbert Morales and Senior Airman Brandon Krantz, both loadmasters from the Maryland Air National Guard, help Peruvian aid workers unload blankets from a C-130 aircraft Aug. 18, 2007, in Pisco, Peru, in the aftermath of an 8.0 magnitude earthquake that struck the area Aug. 15. Photo by US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Lock.

BALTIMORE -- Two crews from the Maryland Air National Guard's 135th Airlift Squadron found themselves unexpectedly pressed into service following an 8.0-magnitude earthquake in Peru Aug. 15. 

"They said, 'an earthquake happened and we need you in Peru,'" said Tech. Sgt. Will Morales, a loadmaster assigned to the 135th Airlift Squadron, based in Baltimore. 

In response, two Maryland C-130s, which were deployed as part of a regular Coronet Oak airlift rotation in San Juan, Puerto Rico, supporting the U.S. Southern Command, were sent downrange to assist in the relief effort. 

The airlifters' first stop was Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras, where they picked up a mobile surgical team and other emergency personnel and supplies. Then it was on
to Pisco, Peru, about 25 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake and the hub of earthquake relief operations. 

Lt. Col. Gordon Kinney, an aircraft commander during the mission, described the scene in Pisco. 

"I don't think I saw any housing with roofs left intact," he said. At the airport, " rows and rows of coffins" were stacked "six and eight high" to bury the dead. 

"The ramp at Pisco was more like an aircraft carrier than an airport," said Lt. Col. David Deborger, who commanded the first aircraft to arrive. "There were people, vehicles and airplanes in constant motion at all times, and the ramp was very crowded." 

"They worked like they knew someone, somehow really depended on their efforts," Kinney said. 

The Marylanders' tactical training and combat experience paid unexpected dividends
when Deborger's crew was able to use night vision goggles to land at Pisco, an airfield normally only useable during the daytime. The 135th crews had garnered significant experience in NVG operations while flying missions into remote airfields in Iraq and Afghanistan and were able to put that experience to good use. 

The 135th Hercs quickly got into a rhythm, shuttling people and cargo between Pisco and Peru's capital, Lima. The lack of space at the airport in Pisco meant the Maryland C-130 crews spent their nights in Lima, where they experienced a number of earthquake aftershocks. While the flying time between the two cities was relatively short -
50 minutes - a lack of materiel handling equipment at both locations meant that everything had to be loaded and unloaded by hand, resulting in long days of heavy manual labor. 

In all, the Marylanders transported more than 121 tons of cargo and 132 passengers
for earthquake relief. 

"The USA always responds to disasters like this, anywhere on the planet. It's what we do," Deborger said. "As a member of the crew, it's very fulfilling, knowing that we are providing help to people who are in great need of it."