U.S. military Osprey aircraft and UH-1 Huey helicopters are flying hundreds of miles east of Katmandu, Nepal in an effort to conduct damage assessments and bring humanitarian relief supplies to thousands of earthquake victims.
The U.S. aircraft are bringing food, water, medical supplies and shelter to areas hardest hit by the April 25 earthquake that shook the region, destroying large buildings and killing at least 7,000 people.
"The aircraft provide an ability to get eyes on roads, infrastructure and deliver Nepalese or U.S. personnel to get a status of the number of wounded personnel and the need for food , water and shelter," Navy Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery, Director for Operations, Pacific Command, told Military.com in an interview. "They do take some supplies out but the mission is primarily about assessing the situation to make the follow on flights more effective."
"A lot of what we provide is situational awareness and assessment. That is what the MV-22s initially are doing. They are allowing the Nepalese authorities to determine the extent of the problem," he said.
The aircraft are part of the U.S. military's Joint Task Force 505, a special unit activated by U.S. Pacific Command to help bring relief to earthquake ravaged areas in Nepal. The unit has experience with these kinds of events as it was also deployed as part of Operation Damayan to bring humanitarian relief to typhoon-damaged areas in the Philippines in 2013.
"We have pushed MV-22s and UH-1s into the Katmandu airport to help the people of Nepal. This is principally made up of four MV-22s and three UH-1 helicopters. We also have air field maintenance repair personnel on the ground to keep the airport functioning in an extremely pressurized situation involving the earthquake," Montgomery added.
The U.S. military air assets are proving especially useful to hard to reach areas in the eastern portion of Nepal.
"We're doing assessments of where the most dangerous or at risk areas are, further away from Katmandu and not seen as much by NGOs," he said.
The U.S. military was called in to help by Nepalese authorities and the U.S. State Department's U.S. AID organization, an entity which made some initial assessments about which assets could quickly save lives and bring relief to areas destroyed by the quake. As a result, the U.S. military is coordinating with Nepalese military officials, NGOs and other relief workers.
While food and water are proving to be life-saving supplies at this critical time in the unfolding disaster, the shelter being delivered by U.S. military aircraft is particularly timely, Montgomery added.
"Sometimes you have a reasonable amount of time to get shelter back up. This is one of those times when this is a high priority for us because of the imminent arrival of the monsoon season," he explained.
Montgomery praised the Nepalese government for their ongoing efforts to restore stability and day-to-day life and offered his condolences to those impacted by the tragedy.
"Nepalese are doing a superb job managing an extremely difficult situation. This is a very large number of casualties for a country of this size. I have been impressed with the professionalism, will and persistence of the Nepalese Army," he added.
In fact, U.S. Special Forces were already in Nepal prior to the earthquake for training with the Nepalese military.
"We had military medicine experts and high altitude search and rescue teams going on. Those forces have turned into supporting elements for search and rescue – and now for relief services. That fact that we had this recurring ongoing relationship with the Nepalese was very useful," Montgomery said.
Montgomery added that humanitarian missions were an important and increasing aspect of the U.S. military's mission.
"The United States military plans and trains for a wide range of operations including full-scale kinetic warfare. The reality is we find ourselves most frequently operating in this environment where we are asked to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster response missions. It provides a great sense of accomplishment to the sailors, airmen and marines who are involved in this. I think this is one of those events where you make a positive impact," he explained.
-- Kris Osborn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org