“What use is having a great depth of field, if there is not an adequate depth of feeling?” -W. Eugene Smith
What is often overlooked in all the combat-related stories are acts of heroism by members of our military on the humanitarian front. Military involvement in relief services around the world is ongoing, even in times of Peace. When disaster looms, anywhere people are hurting and are in need, the US Military is there, sometimes even when the “need” is only two small children. Here are just a few reasons the people conducting these services need to be remembered.
Berlin Airlift, 1947-49
After World War II, as Allied forces first divided up control of Germany and then started arguing with each other, the Cold War created its first crisis. The Soviet Union formed a blockade preventing necessary supplies from getting to West Berlin, which was under the control of the US and UK. Two million people were at risk. The city had been bombed out and there wasn’t sufficient shelter. There was no fuel for heat. Food and water were controlled by the black market. Starvation was imminent. The US sent C-47 Bombers to Britain and for two years they made daily flights to Berlin delivering 646 tons of flour and wheat, 125 tons of cereal, 64 tons of fat, 109 tons of meat and fish, 180 tons of dehydrated potatoes, 180 tons of sugar, 11 tons of coffee, 19 tons of powdered milk, 5 tons of whole milk for children, 3 tons of fresh yeast for baking, 144 tons of dehydrated vegetables, 38 tons of salt and 10 tons of cheese every day. Their service and dedication to “Operation Vittles” kept the people of Berlin alive.
Biafran Airlift, 1968-70
While most of US were committed to conflicts in Vietnam and Cambodia, the civil war in Nigeria created an incredible humanitarian need in and around Biafra. Non-government charity organizations (NGOs), most with religious affiliation, attempted to address the situation independently, but found that doing so was practically impossible because of the ongoing tribal wars. US military personnel provided logistical support in addition to considerable security and air support in a dramatic airlift that was at times every bit as dangerous as flying missions over Vietnam. Often a thankless task, it was frequently difficult to tell who was friendly and who wasn’t, but the US military maintained its point relief program despite criticism of aiding the “wrong” kinds of people.
Ethiopian Famine, 1984-85
A weak government and drought brought Ethiopia into the worst drought seen in several centuries. Even before the international community was fully aware of the disaster, over 400,000 people had died; that number quickly climbed to over a million. Agencies such as the United Nations and the International Red Cross did their best to help, but the government’s inability to distribute food was a constant issue. Today, popular media likes to highlight Bob Geldof’s Live Aid event as being responsible for turning the tide, but in reality it was the combined efforts of the United States military relief services with Britain and other allies that made the difference. US troops provided ground-level security while planes dropped food and medical supplies to remote parts of the country even long after the television cameras went away.
Sudan Medical Missions, 1988
Extensive flooding throughout Sudan in August, 1988, created a severe health crisis that had the World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention begging for help. The US Army sent teams of medical personnel on immunization missions into the most remote parts of Sudan among a group of people who were unfamiliar with the practices of modern medicine. Army teams often found themselves at odds with the very people they had been sent to help and had to carefully develop relationships with each community before they were able to achieve any level of success. Meanwhile, Army medical personnel were subjected to malaria and other diseases, some of which proved fatal. Despite incredible hardship and constant criticism in far from adequate conditions, Army medical teams persevered until the threat was eliminated.
Air Rescue Crew “Komodo 11”
The weather sucked on 23 March 2003 at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. While all other aircraft were grounded, orders were issued to scramble two HH-60s not because of any direct enemy threat but to rescue to Afghan children who had been severely injured. Without immediate medical attention, they would die. The two helicopters took off in the bad weather and, for reasons unknown, one of the choppers using call sign Komodo 11 went down, presumably because of the weather. Killed were: 1st Lt. Tamara Archuleta, 23, of Los Lunas, N.M.; Staff Sgt. Jason Hicks, 25, of Jefferson, S.C.; Master Sgt. Michael Maltz, 42, of St. Petersburg, Fla.; Senior Airman Jason Plite, 21, of Lansing, Mich.; Lt. Col. John Stein, 39, of Bardolph, Ill.; and Staff Sgt. John Teal, 29, of Dallas. The children were rescued and survived.
Nepal Mercy Mission, 2015
The final entry on our list this morning is the newest, and in some ways the most difficult for me to write. It was less than a month ago when a devastating earthquake hit the small country of Nepal killing over 8,000 people. As aid flowed into the country from all over the world, actually getting assistance to people outside Kathmandu was extremely difficult because almost all roads had been destroyed. In answer to this predicament, we sent in our best: The United States Marines. Not all of those missions have gone well, though, and this past week a helicopter carrying a relief team went down, killing everyone on board. NPR has an article remembering the six Marine lives lost. They were all young; Lance Cpl. Jacob Hug turned 22 while delivering rice in Nepal. Many were parents; Capt. Dustin Lukasiewicz was married with a young daughter, looking forward to returning to Nebraska for the birth of their second child. They were all committed to helping the people of Nepal because they were all committed to being US Marines.
The men and women of the United States Armed Forces do more than carry guns, fly planes, shoot cannons, and kill bad guys. The US military represents the entire United States, doing for us what we either cannot, or perhaps in some cases should not, do on our own. Every time someone puts on a uniform, they understand the risk and it is one they assume with pride. Today, we remember not only those who served in times of war, but those who gave their lives helping others. We thank you all.