By Jim GaramoneMay 12, 2008
WASHINGTON, May 12, 2008 - The first U.S. military plane loaded with relief supplies arrived in Burma today as members of "oint Task Force Caring Response" prepared to dispatch two more relief flights to the cyclone-stricken region.
A C-130 Hercules transport aircraft loaded with emergency relief supplies arrived yesterday at Rangoon International Airport in Burma, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. After delivering its load -- 8,300 bottles of water, two pallets of mosquito nets and a pallet of blankets -- to Burmese military officials for distribution, the plane returned to Utapao Thai Royal Navy air base in Thailand.
Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating, the U.S. Pacific Command chief, accompanied the C-130 shipment to Rangoon. "He was greeted by a Burmese naval officer who thanked him for the assistance," Whitman said. Keating returned to Thailand with the flight crew.
The delivery was the first of three planned flights in support of the U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of Foreign Disaster Relief, approved by the military junta that has ruled Burma for 19 years.
Tomorrow's flights will carry food and water, the two greatest needs, into the cyclone-ravaged Irrawaddy River delta. Those deliveries, like today's, will be turned over to the Burmese officials for distribution, Whitman said.
The 36th Contingency Support Group, based in Guam, is preparing to provide a water purification unit and two airfield opening and operating teams to the region, if the Burmese government permits.
These assets already were in the region for Cobra Gold 2008, a U.S.-Thai humanitarian- and civil-assistance exercise, when Cyclone Nargis hit May 2. This year's Cobra Gold, the 27th annual exercise, was slated to run May 8 to 21, officials said.
Marine Lt. Gen. John F. Goodman, commander of Marine Forces Pacific, is coordinating the U.S. military response as commander of Joint Task Force Caring Response.
U.S. State Department officials are working with the Burmese government to allow more aid into the country, Whitman said. State Department officials said today that their personnel in Burma and Thailand are working with other nations to find ways to get more aid into Burma quickly.
"The goal of the United States government is to try to get as much assistance as we can to the Burmese people," Whitman said.
The USS Essex Expeditionary Strike Group will arrive in international waters off Burma tomorrow and be ready to lend a hand if allowed by Burmese authorities. The group includes USS Essex, USS Juneau and USS Harpers Ferry, and is equipped with 23 helicopters, three landing craft air cushions, two landing craft units, and 1,800 Marines.
Additional U.S. military assets are on standby, ready to respond if the Burmese junta permits. The Marine Corps has four KC-130J aircraft in Bangkok, and the Air Force has six C-130s in Utapao and Korat, Thailand.
Nine days after the cyclone, Burmese officials estimate the death toll at 31,938, with another 29,770 missing. United Nations officials put the toll between 62,000 and 100,000. The U.N. also said about 2 million people may be refugees.
(Donna Miles of American Forces Press Service contributed to this article.)