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Operation Unified Assistance: Naval Aviation's swift response to the tsunami disaster.

On 26 December 2004 one of the most devastating earthquakes in recorded history occurred under the Indian Ocean near the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The massive tsunami that resulted killed over 150,000 people and destroyed property from Africa to Thailand, leaving millions of people homeless. The Navy and many Naval Aviation assets immediately sprang into action, playing a key role in what would become Operation Unified Assistance.

The Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) carrier strike group, including Shoup (DDG 86), Shiloh (CG 67), Benfold (DDG 65), and Rainer (T-AOE 7), arrived on 1 January off the coast of Sumatra. Sailors began moving boxes of fresh water, protein drinks, and bags of rice to helicopters to fly into areas where people were most in need. Helicopters from HS-2 and HSL-47 aboard Lincoln as well as those embarked aboard the group's other ships immediately began relief flights.

The Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) expeditionary strike group including Rushmore (LSD 47), Duluth (LPD 6), Milius (DDG 69), Bunker Hill (CG 52), Thach (FFG 43), and the Coast Guard cutter Munro (WHEC 724) arrived a few days later to help with the humanitarian relief. In addition to contributing pallets of food, medicine, and bottled water, Bonhomme Richard's desalinization plants produced more than 30,000 gallons of fresh water each day, which sailors and Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) put into containers to distribute to tsunami victims. MH-60S helicopters transported supplies directly from Bonhomme Richard to isolated areas. Helicopters from the 15th MEU's air combat element and Navy Helicopter Combat Support Squadron (HC) 11 Det 4 also helped carry supplies ashore.

As the days progressed, so did the Navy's response. The Essex (LHD 2) expeditionary strike group relieved Bonhomme Richard on 18 January. With the air combat element of Essex's 31st MEU engaged in Iraq, the ship needed to gather other helo detachments to support the mission. Four Bahrain-based MH-53E Sea Dragons, six CH-46E Sea Knights from Okinawa, Japan, and two MH-60S helicopters from Niagara Falls (T-AFS 3) augmented Essex's embarked HC-5 detachment to continue humanitarian relief operations. By early February, the Lincoln group departed the region, and other Naval Aviation assets began wrapping up their work in the relief effort.

The images on the following pages illustrate how, in the midst of a great tragedy, Naval Aviation provided the immediate response in force that was so desperately needed.

Compiled by JO3 Brandy Lewis
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Author:Lewis, Brandy
Publication:Naval Aviation News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2005
Words:401
Previous Article:Reducing mishaps--the safety challenge.
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