PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti –
When called on recently to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance, Naval Aviation Training Support Group (NATSG) personnel did not hesitate to displace from their duty station to join a Marine squadron not only to render aid, but also to augment necessary squadron maintenance, operations and supply departments.
At about 8:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time Aug. 14, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the Tiburon Peninsula in the Caribbean nation of Haiti, near Petit-Trou-de-Nippes, near Port-Au-Prince, the nation’s capital. More than 2,200 people died and 12,200 were injured. The earthquake also left 650,000 men, women and children in need of food, water and shelter.
U.S. military capabilities are most critical in the early stages of a disaster relief operation, when fewer resources and disaster-response experts are available to help victims and impacted communities. As those disaster relief operations progress and more uniquely experienced experts arrive to assist with longer-term recovery and reconstruction, the need for U.S. military capabilities diminishes as more experienced relief personnel and organizations assume the roles previously performed by military troops and units.
In response to the call for aid by the Haitian government, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) immediately began relief efforts; DOD assets were scrambled to rapidly provide aid due to the limited capacity of the host nation to do so. Among the military assets activated for Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR) were the “Fighting Griffins” of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 266 augmented with a detachment of 14 U.S. Navy officers and Sailors from NATSG, based out of Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River, North Carolina.
NATSG’s mission is to provide support for U.S. Navy V-22 Osprey aircrew and maintenance professionals assigned for training and maturation at Marine Air Group (MAG) 26 and to prepare them for follow-on assignment and integration with Navy fleet Multi-Mission Wing squadrons.
“I got all the Sailors together and asked for volunteers, and the number of enthusiastic volunteers was overwhelming,” said Cmdr. Keith Klosterman, Commanding Officer, NATSG. “It was extremely short notice and the fact that these Sailors could put their jobs and their lives on hold—not really knowing where they were going or how long they would be there—made me very proud of them.”
The Navy and Marine Corps team responded immediately, deploying five MV-22 Ospreys to a forward operating base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Aug. 23, and immediately began their mission in Haiti’s more grievously affected remote, mountainous areas. During the next two weeks, the NATSG Sailors and the “Fighting Griffins” dedicated themselves to daily humanitarian aid and disaster relief operations that showcased the prowess of the Osprey in its element.
“The NATSG Sailors are taught to both operate and maintain high readiness with the V-22 in a variety of conditions and while performing a variety of missions so there’s no specific HADR training, it’s just covered: We’re trained to operate this aircraft where it needs to go and whatever mission it needs to do,” Klosterman said. “When they went on deployment, there was no learning curve. Being the professionals they are, they were just ready to start operating.”
The Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) capability of the MV-22 meant it could make use of nearby naval warships as a fuel source and that the aircraft was not limited to runways or other prepared surfaces, allowing supplies to be delivered to more remote, unprepared landing zones when and where they were needed. Additionally, the MV-22’s extended range and higher cruising speeds allowed it to complete a greater number of deliveries per day than the supporting helicopters, proving it to be the workhorse of the relief effort.
“Every airframe has its pros and cons,” Klosterman said. “What they did to a large degree of success with the V-22 was to try and get the best of both worlds when it comes to a fixed-wing and a rotary-wing aircraft. [The detachment was] able to operate out of Guantanamo Bay and that was due to the increased range and speed of the V-22. It doesn’t have the heaviest lift capacity in the fleet, but, compared with the speed and the range of a normal rotary-wing aircraft, the V-22 absolutely outmatches that, so they were able to base much farther away from the incident, but closer to the supply chain.”
“My involvement and that of my detachment in support of Joint Task Force-Haiti was incredibly rewarding,” said Lt. Andrew Sawyer, NATSG Detachment Officer in Charge. “It was personally gratifying in that we were given the opportunity to provide meaningful aid to the people of Haiti as well as professionally empowering in experiencing firsthand how different civilian and military elements were able to integrate so quickly, then apply the strengths of each component to the mission at hand. This operation showcased how fluid and flexible our forces can be in the wake of the unexpected and unknown. I am glad to have volunteered to take part in this disaster relief effort and I am very proud of the good done for the Haitian people.”
“The comradery between the Sailors and Marines was exceptional,” said Chief Aircrew Survival Equipmentman David Vadnais, NATSG Detachment Senior Enlisted Leader. “The Marine unit we were attached to welcomed us as if we had been a part of the unit from the beginning.”
“I couldn’t be more proud of the NATSG Sailors who volunteered for this arduous and short-notice mission,” Klosterman said. “Their participation epitomizes the strength and effectiveness of our Navy and Marine Corps team. It was extremely valuable for the pilot and aircrew who went there as part of the mission and were able to operate that mission, but also for our maintainers. One of the important things they need to have experience with is operating these aircraft with a small maintenance detachment. The way that this detachment was able to operate further highlights the capability and flexibility of the V-22.”
On Sept. 3, when military operations gave way to civil organizations within the country, VMM-266 and the Navy detachment had flown more than 5,300 nautical miles, transported 320 aid workers and delivered more than 234,100 pounds of life-giving food, water, shelter and medical supplies in order to meet the needs of the struggling Haitian population.
1st Lt. Gabriela Mogollan with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing contributed to this report.
Compiled by Rob Perry, writer/editor, Naval Aviation News.