On Saturday, I went to the beach for the relief effort. I started my day by mustering at the ATO (air transport office) at 5:55 in the morning. We checked in, and were told to return at 6:15. When we did, we had to wait for a while, and then we were given cranials and rubber duckies (life-saving float device). As well as getting our equipment, we took advantage of the waiting time, and put on our sunscreen and DEET, as recommended. As we were on our way out, one girl threw up in the passageway where we were standing. She went to medical, and did not get to go. We rode in a helicopter to get there, which was a little frightening to me. There were about 10 people to a helicopter, and we were all sitting in the back, on the floor. Both going up and coming down are a little choppy as the helicopter maneuvers around.
We arrived on the field, where we would be working, around 7 am. We got started working almost as soon as we got there, and didn’t get a sizeable break until about 10:30. We did however eat little bits and drink lots of water, which was provided for us there under a tent. It was real hot and sunny even before 9:30 a.m. Just before 10:30, one of the folks in charge, asked for 6 people to volunteer to go get wood from the nearby Indonesian air force base. I volunteered, and after some figuring out, we were given a ride by some Indonesian guys in the area. They had a big truck, which was open in back (yet covered high overhead with a tarp). There was one of their guys in front, as well as one of our officers that would lead us to the wood. Then, we had about 6 Indonesian guys and 6 of our guys in the back. We got to the Air Force base (which was just a few blocks away), and had to stand by, by the gate, till we were allowed to enter. They only wanted one truck at a time in there, so we had to wait for another truck to leave. Upon stopping, and getting out of the truck, we loaded 40 long planks of wood (2 X4s?). The project intended with all this wood, was to make new pallets for the relief supplies to sit upon.
The main purpose of the day was to move boxes of the relief supplies. We unloaded them from trucks, with supplies provided by the U.S., USAID (a UNICEF organization), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and more. We moved boxes of chocolate milk, water, sunflower oil, rice, biscuits, and more. After unloading them from the trucks, we set them up in piles based on what they were. Everything was separated by what it was, and set into nice square areas, on the pallets we had, as well as large metal squares placed on the ground (those were compliments of the US Air Force). When helicopters landed we would initially bring up boxes to the helicopters and give them to the crew onboard (2-3 guys usually loading the helicopter), and then with the people bringing up the rear forming a chain to pass more boxes up to the helicopter. It was hot, tiring, and well worth the effort. I had only slept a couple hours the night before leaving, but I did the job. As well, I managed to squeeze in a couple naps in the afternoon, between helicopter landings. At some times we did have 2-3 helicopters down on the field at a time, so we had to make a couple chains to load 2 helicopters at a time.
As far as seeing people needing medical assistance, there weren’t that many that I saw. They did have some, but no one on a stretcher. The one guy that I saw, and actually looked to see what was wrong with him, had his head bandaged up.
There was a great international mix around the field that we worked. From the Navy, we had regular enlisted folks, officers, and hospital corpsmen. There was an Air Force detachment out of Travis AFB in California. There were Indonesians that came from the area directly around the airfield to watch what was going on. There were several different journalists from around the world…the Boston Globe, two French reporters, an Associated Press guy, and a few others that I didn’t talk to. The Associated Press guy took my picture, and within an hour of getting back to the ship, it was online for the world to see. I figured that out a little while after I looked at the picture, after someone else was talking about the time it was posted. Again, I go back to what I was saying in relation to the inauguration, with the speed of information these days. I’ll put the link at the end here if you all want to check it out.
During and after the work, I did feel hot, sweaty, and exhausted…but I knew that it was all worth it. Every box I moved was going to be received by some one who needed it, and had hardly any food. We finished the day between 4-5 in the afternoon, so it was just over eight hours of work, with plenty of “catch your breath” breaks in between.
We were well stocked with food for ourselves. Food from the ship had been brought for lunches, snacks and drinks. We had sandwiches, fruit, Pringles, cake, Pepsi (I had one, because it’s not really what you should be drinking on a hot day), bottled water (as well as a water tank for re-fills), and more.
When we headed back to the ship, I rode in a helicopter with a few less people. They were sending people back in groups of 4-10, rather than them all being groups of 10. The crewman that was sitting in the back with us left the door open for the whole flight. This scared me a lot more than the helicopter flight itself.
That was my day. As soon as I got back to the ship, I stopped for a minute to drop an email. Then, I crashed from the depletion of energy. I slept till almost 4 am and then got up. My body is just starting to return to normal now, after changing around my sleep pattern like that.