Airmen assigned to the 435th Contingency Response Group, Ramstein AB, Germany, supporting Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), set up a forward operating location at Beira Airport, Mozambique, April 2, 2019, for the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) relief effort in the Republic of Mozambique and surrounding areas following Cyclone Idai. USAF photo by SSgt Corban Lundborg
Airmen from the 435th Contingency Response Group, Ramstein AB, Germany, carry U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) supplies at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, April 1, 2019. USAF photo by SSgt Franklin R. Ramos
Local men assist in humanitarian relief efforts at Beira Airport, Mozambique, April 2, 2019, during humanitarian relief efforts in the Republic of Mozambique and surrounding areas. USAF photo by SSgt Corban Lundborg
By DR. ANDREW WACKERFUSS, 521 AMOW Historian
Cyclone Idai, the Indian Ocean’s worst cyclone in a century, hit the southeast coast of Africa in March of this year, leaving death and destruction in its wake. Idai first made landfall in Mozambique on March 14 as a tropical depression causing flooding in the port city of Beira. Once inland, however, the storm turned in a circle and dumped even more water over the region as it traveled back over Beira and out to sea. Idai reversed course again, intensified into a devastating cyclone, and charged back for a catastrophic second landfall on March 15.
The storm caused massive flooding, intense wind damage, numerous road and bridge collapses, and an immense loss of life across a 1,200 square mile region including Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Madagascar. All told, the death toll numbered at least 1,000 fatalities, and the larger devastation meant that the true total may never be known.
Beira is Mozambique’s fourth-largest city. Some of its areas lie beneath sea level, making it especially vulnerable to flooding. Access to the city by road grew increasingly difficult throughout the storm and eventually ceased altogether when a dam burst and inundated the last major open road. With the city completely cut off by land, air mobility offered the only possible way to provide vital supplies.
U.S. relief agencies called for a global response for aid with assets coming from the United States, Europe, and Africa. The 60th Air Mobility Wing (AMW) at Travis Air Force Base, California, and the 436th Airlift Wing (AW) at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, in conjunction with airlift wings from other air bases, provided crews and aircraft to assist in the humanitarian aid. State Department diplomats from around the world coordinated with joint forces personnel at the United States Africa Command at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany, and the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) in Djibouti and Mozambique also provided personnel who were eager to assist.
From March 24 to April 13, the CJTF-HOA flew 120 missions to deliver 782 tons of supplies to the battered nation. This rapid response and coordination of supplies involving various agencies would not have been possible without relying on Ramstein Air Base in southwestern Germany.
At Ramstein, three wings stand ready at all times to deliver and support humanitarian airlift operations of this scale. The host wing, the 86th Airlift Wing, provides C-130s and other airlift capacities while administering the base as a whole. The 435th Air Ground Operations Wing (AGOW) assesses airfields, deploys personnel, and sets up airfields in needed locations. The 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing (AMOW) supplies aerial port services, command and control, operational support of deployed personnel, and maintenance teams standing ready around the clock to keep C-5s and C-17s flying throughout the theater.
A single mission on March 30 demonstrated how these three wings work seamlessly to conduct a humanitarian aid operation when disaster strikes and unexpected problems arise.
The 435 AGOW was the first on the ground in Mozambique, arriving March 26 to assess local conditions and set up reliable airfields. Once established, 435 AGOW provided local aerial port services, managed the airfield, and controlled air traffic.
A C-17A belonging to the 62 AW at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, and flown by an aircrew from Joint Base Charleston’s 437 AW in South Carolina, was one of the aircraft used to deliver the much-needed supplies. This aircraft, which had already extended its deployment to support the relief mission, suddenly revealed a serious fuel pressurization issue and had to divert back to Ramstein. Maintenance crews at the 521 AMOW’s 721st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (AMXS) quickly accomplished a 600 flight-hour hard point inspection, which involved changing the engine and gearbox oil filters, and then performed a full array of operational checks. Such a repair is normally only done at an aircraft’s home station, but the AMXS crews accomplished it in a few hours and quickly returned the aircraft to service in time to stay on its mission.
Upon arrival, the C-17A delivered pallets of supplies that had been built in the United States and handled at Ramstein by the “port dogs” of the 521 AMOW’s 721st Aerial Port Squadron. In Africa, crews offloaded the needed goods under the watchful eyes of a RAVEN Team of security forces specialists, based out of Charleston, and supported by Ramstein’s 313th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron.
The exceptional cooperation among the three wings at Ramstein demonstrates why it is the world’s premier platform for delivering intercontinental humanitarian aid. Their remarkable services allow a vast array of other mission partners—from other Air Force wings, to joint components, to U.S. and international aid agencies—the ability to rush urgently-needed, strategic-level assistance to nations battered by storms and disasters.