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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hawaii Air National Guard, Air Force crews part of Haiti relief

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Hawai'i Air National Guard personnel from the 204th Airlift Squadron load a Humvee on board an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE Three C-17 cargo jets left yesterday on a Haiti relief mission with Hawai'i Air National Guard and Air Force active duty personnel, the latest military assistance from the Isles to head to the earthquake-devastated Caribbean nation.

The Globemaster III jets are owned by the active duty Air Force's 15th Airlift Wing but are piloted, crewed and maintained by a combination of Air Guard and active-duty troops.

Five Guard members and two active-duty airmen were on a C-17 that left yesterday afternoon with a Humvee and portable shelter. The cargo plane's first mission likely will be to transport the Humvee and some American soldiers to Haiti.

"It's definitely exciting," said Capt. Robert Zeitz, 31. "I'm a pretty new pilot with the 204th Airlift Squadron (of the Hawai'i Air National Guard), so I haven't been able to do any humanitarian missions yet. This is the first one, so it feels good to help out."

The other two C-17s are crewed by active-duty Air Force members. A Coast Guard C-130 cargo aircraft out of Barbers Point was sent to Clearwater, Fla., over the weekend and has been making relief runs to Haiti since then.

The three C-17 jets from Hickam will be operating out of Charleston, S.C., on what is expected to be a 10-day mission, officials said.

Zeitz, a Honolulu Fire Department firefighter, found out on Monday that he was going to be flying on the relief mission. He's on three months of military duty that started Jan. 1 to gain more experience as a pilot.

Maj. Noa Allen, a 1992 Kamehameha Schools graduate, also is on the mission as the aircraft commander. Allen, 35, said he got back to Hawai'i on Saturday after flying in from Thailand on a mission to return missing U.S. service members' remains.

"Any support we can give to help out (in Haiti), it's a great mission for us to do," Allen said.

Allen said he's been "hearing the war stories" about flying into Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, the only airport in Haiti that was open.

More than 200 relief flights daily transit through the congested airport. A combination of Haitian, American and Canadian air traffic controllers and Air Force special operations forces have been trying to create order out of what initially was aviation chaos.

The U.S. military was attempting to open a second runway in the city of Jacmel, about 30 miles south of the Haitian capital.

Lt. Col. Woody Woodrow, commander of the Hawai'i Air National Guard's 204th Airlift Squadron, said the Hawai'i-based C-17s are likely to be on the ground in Haiti for an hour or more as cargo and personnel are offloaded.

He said the Hawai'i crews will be thrown into a mix of military members and will fly Mainland C-17s as well as the Hawai'i planes into Haiti.

The number of U.S. forces operating in and around Haiti is expected to rise to more than 10,000 by today.