U.S. Airlift to Somalia: Troops Enjoy ‘Feeding, Not Bombing’ With AM-Somalia-Force, Bjt
MOMBASA, Kenya (AP) _ On the graffiti wall of Joint Task Force Provide Relief, a soldier described the mission of the American food airlift to Somalia this way:
″1st operational deployment of survival.″
In his soft Virginia accent, Tech. Sgt. Stuard M. Smith expressed the same idea.
″It’s enjoyable to help people,″ said Smith, 38, who grew up in Richlands, in the Blue Ridge mountains. ″It really is. It’s nice to know you’re helping these people who can’t help themselves.″
President Bush ordered the task force formed on Aug. 14 to carry food to as many as 2 million Somalis said by the United Nations to be in imminent danger of starvation.
Three days later, a fleet of four C-141s and eight smaller C-130 Hercules cargo planes began arriving in Mombasa, Kenya’s principal Indian Ocean port and the base of the U.S. relief operation. Relief flights began on Aug. 21.
On Sunday, four flights took 37 tons of rice, beans and vegetable oil to the Somali town of Belet Huen. There were seven flights to Wajir, Kenya, near the Somali border, with 125 tons of wheat, split peas and salt.
The shipments Sunday was enough to feed 372,500 people for a day.
A week into the American operation, morale among the 490 young soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines of the joint task force is remarkably good.
For one thing, shipments of food and mail arrived from home Saturday night. For another, they were given their very own military address: JTF-Provide Relief, CMR-70901 APOAE 09899-0901.
″Talking about morale, this is a group of winners,″ said the commander, Marine Brig. Gen. Frank Libutti, 47, of Huntington, N.Y.
It was Libutti who suggested the graffiti wall as a way of pulling his disparate troops together.
The unpainted side of a makeshift, wooden office inside the cement-block U.S. Navy warehouse is the heart of the operation. Among the other scrawled entries on the graffiti wall:
″Combat camera. We came. We saw. We took their picture.″
David Coyle of the 438th combat Support Group wrote: ″Proud father of Erin Vey Coyle and husband to Nancy Coyle. God Bless America.″
Among several task force members interviewed, the only complaint was uncertainty about when the mission would be over.
″Our orders were cut for 60 days, but we don’t know,″ said Tech. Sgt. Marv D. Lynchard, 34, of Houston.
″Anyhow, it’s better than the desert,″ said the 17-year veteran combat photographer, who was in Saudi Arabia last year during the Gulf War.
Tech. Sgt. Charles Johnson, 35, of Charleston, S.C., a flight line safety specialist, also has 17 years in the Air Force but missed Desert Storm.
″You train for so many years to do a job, and then you miss the war,″ he said. ″I sort of had a feeling that I’d missed something.″
But Johnson added, ″It’s kind of pleasing to be out here doing something for somebody instead of making war. We’re feeding people, not bombing them.″
The U.S. airlift to Wajir began on Aug. 21, with food intended for Kenyan drought victims and Somali refugees. The first flights into Somalia began Friday. The shipments are distributed by relief agencies.
One ton of food feeds about 2,200 people for one day. It would take nearly 700 tons a day just to feed the Somalis in immediate danger of starvation; the Red Cross’ relief effort is getting about 22,000 tons of food a month into the country.
Italy, France, Germany, Canada, Britain, Israel and other nations also have mounted airlifts or promised aid to Somalia.
At Provide Relief, 2nd Lt. Scott Magnan, 24, briefs flight crews on the weather. So far, he said, it’s been fine for missions.
He also noted that there’s plenty to do in Mombasa, like windsurfing, scuba diving and swimming. But the Syracuse, N.Y., native has had no time to enjoy the city. He’s worked every day, briefing six to 10 flight crews daily.
He thinks about his wife, Tracy, back home ″with two puppies, a lawn to mow and a full-time teacher’s job. ... She’s busier than me.″
But he had no complaints.
″I’ll go home when they tell me to,″ Magnan said.