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Nelson helps coordinate relief to Pakistan

Airmen from the 621st Contingency Response Wing place equipment and prepare to establish operations with the Pakistan air force's central flood relief cell in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Aug. 29, 2010. About 40 airmen assigned to the 621st CRW are working with Pakistani officials to support humanitarian airlift operations and deliver relief supplies to locations throughout Pakistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Lt. Col. Patrick Ryder)

Airmen from the 621st Contingency Response Wing place equipment and prepare to establish operations with the Pakistan air force's central flood relief cell in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Aug. 29, 2010. About 40 airmen assigned to the 621st CRW are working with Pakistani officials to support humanitarian airlift operations and deliver relief supplies to locations throughout Pakistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Lt. Col. Patrick Ryder)

CHAKLALA AIR BASE, Pakistan --  A number of Pakistan, U.S. and international organizations, both military and civilian, gathered here Aug. 28 to form an air coordination cell aimed at streamlining air operations supporting Pakistan's flood relief efforts.

"There are a considerable amount of organizations [helping with flood relief in Pakistan]," said Travis Betz, a logistics officer on the U.S. Agency for International Development Disaster Assistance Response Team who assisted in bringing together the United Nations "logistics cluster and government of Pakistan and the U.S. military [to] have a coordinated air planning session."

The meeting was chaired by the commander of the Pakistan Army Aviation Command with representatives from U.N. Logistics Cluster, World Food Program, U.S. Agency for International Development, Office of the Defense Representative Pakistan and representatives from Air Force Central Command. Also present were representatives from the Pakistan army and air force and Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority.

"The biggest success we've had ... is the consolidation of the air coordination cell here," said Col. Greg Nelson, 123rd Airlift Wing Commander who is currently serving as director of mobility forces for humanitarian assistance.

After torrential rains pounded the country and a surge of water jetted through towns and villages, many were left without food, water, shelter and other basic necessities. The Pakistan Air Force's Central Flood Relief Cell stood up at Chaklala AFB to direct relief toward areas most in need, but there was still a communication gap between the many involved nations' militaries, governments and international organizations.

"Coordination up to the merging or forming of the air coordination cell has been fragmented," said Colonel Nelson. "The lead civilian agency is the National Disaster Management Authority of Pakistan ... They have received support and commodities from all over the world, but it's just individual nations to them. Until we formed this coordination cell, the [various entities] weren't able to merge together and bring that requirements and commodities picture to an organized air flow capability."

The purpose of the air coordination cell meeting was to discuss available food and supplies, requirements in flooded areas throughout Pakistan and means for transporting the items throughout the country. It was also necessary within the meeting to facilitate communication between the countries and agencies involved and to better accommodate the many donations, air assets and collaborators.

Besides enhanced communication, the creation of the air coordination cell also provides the opportunity for a planning process that looks further into the future than the one-day-in-advance effort the relief cell had previously been putting forth.

Up until the establishment of the air coordination cell, the requirement for various commodities was passed on to the air cell to develop an "air flow plan immediately for the next 24 hours," said Colonel Nelson. "Now we're starting to look at a week out."
Getting lead representatives from each entity was not an easy task, but the change will likely be beneficial for relief operations now and in the near future.

"It took a while to get it together, but this will really increase the efficiency of air delivery of the needs across the country of Pakistan. But it's all in support of the government of Pakistan through the NDMA, and this cell puts the whole thing together."