Airmen reflect on first hours of Haiti relief mission

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Joe McFadden
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
As many people around the world watched the aftermath of the earthquake that ravaged Haiti Jan. 12, they also saw the compassion and character of the military responders who brought humanitarian aid.

Some of the first service members to land on the island were Airmen from the 1st Special Operations Wing, whose motto of "Any time, any place," includes being able to leave at a moment's notice to provide support for people they have never met.

Two Airmen from the 1st Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron were among the first military responders to bring humanitarian aid to Haiti Jan. 13.

Tech. Sgt. Anthony Milano, a hydraulics craftsman with the 1st SOAMXS, found out shortly after arriving to work that morning that he was going to Haiti.

"I didn't realize what had happened until I got to work that morning," he said. "I thought it would be another regular day."

Staff Sgt. Charles Hamilton, a crew chief with the 1st SOAXMS, was not scheduled to work that day.

"My wife and I saw the devastation on the news, and she said 'See you later,'" Sgt. Hamilton said. "I told her she would probably be right, and she was. I was in Crestview helping a friend with his car when I actually got the call."

After packing their bags and preparing for travel, Sergeants Milano and Hamilton and other members of the 1st SOAMXS flew from Eglin Air Force Base to Hurlburt Field. Their C-130 was loaded with humvees and generators and was one of the first aircraft to fly to the island after the devastating earthquake.

"The flight to Haiti was about four hours, but we circled the airfield for three-and-a-half hours," Sergeant Milano said. "No control of the airfield had been established at that time, so it was kind of land-at-your-own-risk."

As the small airfield was still being set up and more planes were waiting to land, their plane ended up not landing as was originally planned.

"We were running low on fuel, so we had to fly back," Sergeant Hamilton said.

While back in the United States, the Airmen unloaded their initial cargo, which was sent on another plane that could leave sooner. As their aircraft refueled, the Airmen loaded food and water for the next flight.

"The mission changed several times, even within the hour," Sergeant Milano said. "But we had to adapt, and we did."

Later that night, the C-130 set off to Haiti for a second time. While the first attempt took place in broad daylight, this landing was in the middle of the night.

"The next time we got there everything was very organized," Sergeant Milano said. "The controlers assigned times and we were able to land."

This was not Sergeants Hamilton and Milano's first time in a foreign country. But they said the 30 minutes they were on the ground was perhaps the shortest amount of time they spent in one.

"Everything happened so fast," Sergeant Milano said. "The engines never stopped, and as soon as we finished unloading we took off again."

Back in Florida, at least for now, the Airmen reflected on what had been a long, two-day period.

"I thought the response was very fast," Sergeant Hamilton said. "It was a good experience."

"Most likely we will go back to Haiti," Sergeant Milano said. "It's part of the job, and helping others is what we're all about."