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‘Tyranny of distance’ not an obstacle for AFNORTH’s Haiti relief operations

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- There are 1,160 miles that separate the 601st Air & Space Operations Center from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Under 'normal' circumstances, that distance may seem insurmountable when trying to coordinate more than 130 inbound and outbound aircraft daily that are bringing life-saving supplies to a single damaged runway.

But that coordination is happening -- right here -- at Tyndall AFB. The 'tyranny of distance' has not proven to be an obstacle for the Airmen working 24/7 in the Haiti Operations Coordination Center (known more commonly to Air Force personnel as RAMCC - Regional Air Mobility Control Center) that is headquartered out of the 601st AOC in the aftermath of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked Haiti Jan. 12.

United States Southern Command is the lead Department of Defense combatant command for Haiti relief operations. Under that command is Air Force Southern's 612th Combined Air & Space Operations Center, based at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz. Within two days of the earthquake, the 612th CAOC requested the 601st RAMCC's support with ramp flow control at the Port-au-Prince airport since Tyndall's AOC has unique qualifications of post-disaster ramp control from previous natural disasters like the California wildfires, Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike and Gustav, and the mid-western floods in 2008.

The primary role of the HFOCC is to manage and control the flow of relief aircraft into the Port-au-Prince airport by sequencing and prioritizing the airfield's "maximum on ground" capacity while coordinating with the Government of Haiti, who has ultimate control of airspace and ground operations in and out of the country.

Since that time, the HFOCC has coordinated more than 2,560 international, U.S. civil agency and U.S. government aircraft into the Port-au-Prince airport. The HFOCC team more than doubled the flights in and out of the airport, and minimized ground stops from hours to minutes.

Most know that our organization - Continental U.S. NORAD Region-1st Air Force (Air Forces Northern) - is a bi-national one, with our Canadian partners sitting side-by-side with us to execute our mission of Homeland Defense. It's a mission we wouldn't be able to undertake without their partnership, cooperation and dedication.

Operation Unified Response is no different. Together with our Canadian partners and Florida Air National Guardsmen, AFNORTH is supporting Air Forces Southern, U.S. Southern Command, U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Government of Haiti, just to name a few organizations, who are working around the clock to bring much-needed relief to the citizens of Haiti.

It is a "Total Force Initiative" effort, with Air Force reservists, active duty augmentees and Army defense coordinating officers from around the nation pitching it to assist with humanitarian relief that is so desperately needed.

It is also an international initiative, with a United Nations representative with extensive aviation experience in various peacekeeping missions around the globe who has been appointed to assist the HFOCC with ongoing operations.

Does this operation come without its own set of unique challenges? Absolutely not, but I am consistently amazed at the ingenuity, dedication and selfless sacrifice of our men and women in uniform who willingly face daunting hurdles and find ways to overcome them.

Probably the best testament our Air Force could receive was from an international relief worker whose organization was desperately trying to fly medical supplies into Haiti, who said, "No other organization or nation could handle this as professionally as the United States Air Force, and you have our highest regard and utmost appreciation!"

I echo those profound sentiments and tip my hat to each and every Airman, Soldier, Sailor and Marine who is playing a role in what will most likely be a long-term relief operation for some time to come.