Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Four Oregon airmen head to Haiti to assist with relief efforts there

Early Tuesday morning, Mark Gibson did what many travelers do before boarding their flight--he kissed his wife Leah goodbye, then walked through the security checkpoint. But instead of removing his shoes for the security check, he took off his combat boots.

Lt. Mark Gibson is part of a four-man team from the 123rd Weather Flight--a tenant unit of the Oregon Air National Guard's 142nd Fighter Wing and an integral part of the Combat Operations Group.

Their team headed to Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Feb. 2, to help with the ongoing relief efforts, resulting from the Jan. 12 earthquake there. They will spend six months providing weather operations support for the Joint Task Force already in place.

"It (the mission) shows we always have to be prepared," Gibson said.

Team leader, Master Sgt. Ken Campbell said it took a while to get the necessary clearances for the team to enter Haiti, but he credited the help of key individuals who expedited the mission request--especially Maj. Gen. Raymond F. Rees, The Adjutant General, Oregon National Guard.

"Gen. Rees approved the request within five minutes of it landing on his desk," Campbell said. "But the true person who made this all come together was Master Sgt. Pam Pitman."

Pitman, who works full-time at the Portland Air National Guard Base, handled the logistical planning for the team, put together their orders, and obtained the necessary country clearances.

"Without her, we wouldn't be leaving today," Campbell said.

While Campbell coordinated checking in the gear boxes and luggage, Gibson waited for his boarding pass at the United Airlines ticket gate. The two other team members; Tech. Sgt. Michael Fischer and Staff Sgt. Matt Jenkins; readied their equipment and luggage. They hefted large gear boxes onto the scales, while United Airlines employees watched.

While the Task Force in Haiti is already assisting with post-earthquake relief efforts, an official weather base has yet to be set up, Campbell said. The Oregon airmen will link up with the Air Expeditionary Group, which has yet to be established.

"We will meet with the Joint Meteorological Officer already there to get our tasking," Campbell said.

Campbell said while individuals from the 123rd Weather Flight deploy all the time, this is the first time they have responded to an international disaster.

As the airmen made their way to the airport security check point, Gibson's wife Leah said even though this particular deployment came unexpectedly, she hopes her husband and the rest of the team members can help make a difference in Haiti.

"It's going to be beneficial to everyone," she said. "I hope they can get a lot accomplished."

Gibson said the hardest part of any deployment is leaving family members behind, but the sacrifices Oregon's military members endure will benefit the entire state.

"Everyone wins," Gibson said. "This will reflect well on the Oregon National Guard and the 142nd Fighter Wing."

The team is scheduled to land in Charleston, S.C. late in the evening, where they will transfer to a military C-130. They hope to be in Port-au-Prince around 4:00 a.m. Feb. 3.

Oregon Air National Guard's 123rd Weather Flight team members, from left to right: Staff Sgt. Matt Jenkins, Tech. Sgt. Michael Fischer, Master Sgt. Ken Campbell, and Lt. Mark Gibson. The team left the Portland International Airport for Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Feb. 2, to assist with ongoing relief efforts in Haiti. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy, Oregon National Guard Public Affairs Office).

Posted by Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
Oregon National Guard Public Affairs Office

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