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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Flight crew tells of Guam recovery

 •  Guam visitors face double hardship

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Just off a C-5 cargo jet after two weeks in Guam, Airman 1st Class Carlos Gierlings had a whole new appreciation for things he normally takes for granted.

"(I'm excited to) just take a warm shower and have power again," the 25-year-old said yesterday at Hickam Air Force Base.

Gierlings, with the 15th Air Base Wing Civil Engineer Squadron at Hickam, arrived just in time to spend Christmas with his wife.

"I thought there was a possibility we may have to stay longer," Gierlings said. "I'm just glad to be back."

Ten members of the engineer squadron, which left for Andersen Air Force Base just days after Supertyphoon Pongsona hit the Pacific island with 150 to 180 mph winds Dec. 8, arrived home yesterday afternoon.

Five Hickam engineers still on Guam are expected back in several weeks, while nine members of the 15th Services Squadron already have returned.

Hickam served as a stop-off point for a succession of C-5 and C-17 cargo carriers loaded with relief supplies from home bases including Dover and Travis in Delaware and California, respectively.

Col. Al Riggle, 15th Air Base Wing commander, said the relief effort differed from typhoon Chata'an in July, when Hickam units helped place supplies on pallets bound for Guam.

"This time, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) is actually contracting directly with commercial aircraft," Riggle said, "so a lot of it we haven't seen, like last time."

Still, more than 30 Air Force missions on Pacific Air Forces and Air Mobility Command aircraft brought personnel and supplies to Guam, including a four-bed expeditionary field hospital, water tanks, generators, medical supplies and building materials such as plywood and rope.

Airman 1st Class Jason Rice, who also returned yesterday, said it was a long two weeks in Guam. Rice helped install and operate generators on base and at well sites that were without power.

"From the second we got off the plane, we went to work, and from that point on, it was 12- to 15-hour days," Rice said.

He said he was "in awe" of what he saw. There were flipped-over cars, roofs ripped off buildings, utility poles laying in the street and on houses. The airman helped with the typhoon Chata'an recovery, but the damage then didn't compare. "On a scale of 1 to 10, Chata'an was a 5, and this was a 9," Rice said.

Fuel storage tanks that caught fire meant no fuel for generators or cars. When the supply was restored, Rice said lines at the stations were 2 1/2 miles long.

But there's been a "great deal" of progress, he said.

"The base and communications are up. Off base is still hurting quite a bit, but the base is able to carry on its mission, and it's got power."

Riggle said Andersen's wing commander "couldn't have been more happy with the support," because the Hickam personnel arrived so quickly and were able to provide some much-needed reinforcement.

Now Gierlings has just one problem.

"It's great to be home, but I haven't done my Christmas shopping yet."

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5459.