1/6/2004 - AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar (AFPN) -- When I was notified about my Air Expeditionary Force Silver deployment in October, I knew I would be spending the holiday season, my birthday and promotion away from my wife and miss sharing these cherished times with her. What I didn't know then was that I would have an opportunity to do something fulfilling we can both look back on proudly for years to come.
Helping people is a great feeling, but helping a country in need is something I never expected to be involved with before taking part in a historic humanitarian operation in Iran Dec. 28-30. Not only did the operation mark the first time American military aircraft have landed there in more than a dozen years, it gave me the chance to be one of the first military members since then to interact with the Iranian people and see their reactions to Americans bringing relief to their country.
Imagine looking at a mid-sized city, slightly larger than Santa Fe, N.M., and suddenly seeing it resemble a desolate New Mexico desert a moment later. This gives you some idea of the devastation caused by a 6.6 Richter scale earthquake that flattened the Iranian city of Bam Dec. 26, with casualties in the tens of thousands.
Almost halfway through my deployment to the Combined Air Operations Center here, I was awakened in my tent and told I would soon be on a C-130 bound for Iran.
As part of my job here, I track media events throughout our area of responsibility, but had no idea I would soon be thrust into a country that last had ties to the U.S. in 1979. My family would later learn I was there by watching the news.
Bringing in to the country more than 300,000 pounds of humanitarian relief supplies, medical teams and equipment on 11 aircraft certainly was an unknown, since we have had no diplomatic ties to Iran in such a long time. But, like so many other nations flying in relief, America's generosity was welcomed too.
As we arrived at Kerman International Airport in the cold of the night of Dec. 28, we were greeted with suspicion, which quickly became collaboration and warmth. Working side-by-side, Americans and Iranians unloaded the plane. This would be standard procedure for our other planes arriving: Iranians working hard to offload supplies with visibly friendly interaction between the two country's citizens.
Before we knew it, they brought a tray with cups and began serving coffee on the ramp where our C-130 was parked. Then the Iranians asked to pose for pictures with our American crew. Handshakes increased and smiles grew.
When an Iranian C-130 parked next to our aircraft, their crew came over to meet ours. Loadmasters, speaking in broken English, asked to meet with our loadmasters. Iranian pilots talked with our pilots. Several of them mentioned that family members had flown in our Air Force pilot programs during the 1970s and talked of their good memories of Americans.
As we brought in several aircraft carrying American medical teams and supplies, we were given the chance to act as American goodwill ambassadors, meeting with hundreds of people, taking dozens of photos with people who thanked us for coming to Iran.
Wearing a U.S. Air Force uniform in the middle of a country labeled as a sponsor of terrorism made me a little nervous when I arrived. But the more I interacted with the people of Iran, I realized our team, a symbol of America's resolve to help, wasn't lost upon our Iranian hosts. The message was clear: America was bringing hope to the Iranian people ravaged by this disaster.
Military members from other countries also greeted our American presence with good cheer as they brought in relief supplies on their aircraft.
I talked with the pilot of a Romanian aircraft delivering loads of blankets. Though he wore his country's uniform, he also wore something distinctive -- a U.S. Air Force baseball cap.
I greeted several hundred Iranians, their English ranging from limited to excellent. Those who couldn't speak English were resigned to using non-verbal communication. Most just wanted to say "thank you" for America's help in any way they could.
Hearing so many people say "thank you" for bringing assistance to Iran was eye-opening. Hearing so many say how much they love America and "wish you could visit more," made it even more so.
I'll never forget the look on one woman's face as I walked through the airport. She sat quietly as I walked past. Then she saw the nametape on my desert camouflage uniform and read it aloud in amazement.
"U.S. Air Force in Iran! I can't believe it," she shouted quite happily, getting up to talk with me. It is that woman I feel best represents the attitude of Iranians I encountered during my time there.
This humanitarian mission to help the Iranian people has proven to me the great responsibility we as Americans bear when there is a crisis in the world. But it is that responsibility which makes us Americans.
While the earthquake was a great tragedy, the effects of American aid being delivered on Air Force aircraft sends a great message about the will of our country to offer hope to people in need. Regardless of what happens in the future, it is this humanitarian message that I will remember about this journey, and I feel the Iranian people will too.
Source: Air Force Link
... Payvand News - 1/8/04 ... --