By Public AffairsDecember 4, 2006
SOTO CANO AIR BASE, HONDURAS - U.S. military personnel are preparing to return to Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, after deploying to Panama Nov. 25 as part of a humanitarian aid/disaster relief task force to provide assistance to Panamanian civilians affected by recent flooding.
The task force logged 70.5 hours airlifting more than 130,000 pounds of food, water, mattresses and hygiene supplies to people in the flooded areas who had no other means getting them due to the washed out and damaged roads and bridges; evacuating four people, including two children; transporting 75 people to various locations to assist those in need; and collecting video data on the damaged areas for use by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National System for Civil Protection (SINAPROC) in on-going and future assistance on missions to the affected areas.
"The support we have received from the U.S. has been excellent," said Roberto Velasquez, director of SINAPROC. "The efforts of those involved helped more than half of the people affected by the flooding and not only made things better for them now, but for the future as well."
The director went on to say that many agencies around the world helped in this effort, to include the people of Panama, who donated the food, water and hygiene supplies, Spain, Japan, and a myriad of U.S. government agencies to include the Joint Task Force-Bravo and U.S. military group personnel assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Panama and USAID through its Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance.
Officials at the U.S. Embassy to Panama said they received positive feedback from the people of Panama, and they are grateful for the assistance they've received.
"I just received a phone call from a woman who was literally crying saying she had seen a Southern Command plane fly over her apartment and she knew the U.S. was here to help with all the flooding victims," said Lynee Arosema, a protocol officer at the U.S. Embassy in Panama. "She went on to say that the U.S. is the only country generous enough to help other countries when they are in need. She blessed all of us and the United States for the help."
The information about this call was shared with the participants in the task force, and all said they were very touched by this woman's words and were happy to help.
"On behalf of Joint Task Force-Bravo, we are honored to be asked to help the Panamanian people," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Howard Arey, commander of the deployed task force, who also served as an aircraft commander on five missions during this deployment. "It has been a pleasure working with SINAPROC and SAN (National Air Service of Panama) personnel. I have seen firsthand the difference our combined efforts have made in the lives of the people in the washed out areas, and I am very proud of the hard work the Soldiers and Airmen have done here."
The group deployed at the request of the Panamanian government through the U.S. Embassy in Panama, and is providing airlift support by delivering much-needed supplies to people in areas inaccessible by other means, medical assistance, and data collection on damaged areas, as well as doing search and rescue missions and casualty evacuations. The areas affected by the flooding are the city of Colon and surrounding areas of the Departments of Colon and the Comarca of San Blas (Kuna Yala) in northern Panama and in northern areas of Cocle Province.
Operating from the Panama Emergency Operations Center, located at the former Howard Air Force Base, U.S. military personnel from Joint Task Force-Bravo and the U.S. Military Group assigned to the Embassy in Panama jointly participated in operations for 72 hours to stabilize the situation. Other U.S. government agencies will remain in country to provide assistance in coordination with other international donor agencies.