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By Natalie J. Quinata

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Dec. 29) – Military personnel at Andersen Air Force Base on Guam were deployed yesterday and will be the first U.S. troops to land in Thailand to provide humanitarian relief.

Workers from Indonesia to India rushed to bury corpses to ward off disease Wednesday as cargo planes touched down with promised aid -- from lentils to water purifiers -- to help the region cope with its tsunami catastrophe. The death toll soared to at least 67,715.

Chances faded of finding more survivors of Sunday's massive, quake-driven walls of water -- probably the deadliest in history. With tens of thousands of people still missing, the toll in nearly a dozen affected countries was sure to climb further.

Meanwhile, American relief efforts are under way, as Andersen Air Force Base's military personnel will be the first of the U.S. troops to have their "boots on the ground" in Utaphao, Thailand, where they will begin humanitarian assistance to the nations affected.

About 50 men and women from the 13th Air Force and other units on Andersen Air Force Base were briefed and processed yesterday before they were flown to Thailand, where they will set up an operations command post.

Colonel Greg Sanders, vice commander of the 13th Air Force, said the command post will be used to coordinate air lift operations that will be responsible for bringing the supplies, as well as coordinating where the supplies will go.

Notice of the deployment was given to those who were selected for the mission Tuesday evening. They were ready to go yesterday morning.

At the briefing, personnel were given instructions on how to conduct themselves while on the mission and, more importantly, were given advice on how to deal with the situation they would be heading into.

Chaplain Maj. Greg Woodbury, who served on a humanitarian mission to another earthquake disaster in Istanbul, Turkey, tried to brief mission members on what to expect and to be mindful of fellow soldiers.

"It's hard to deal with the death and destruction. It breaks the people, and if you're not prepared for it, it overwhelms you," Woodbury said. "The sights and smells stay with you forever."

Lieutenant Genieve David, a public affairs officer for the Air Force, who volunteered for the mission, was more than willing to bring the much-needed help to those civilians who are trying to get their lives back in order.

David said the group is scheduled to be deployed for about 45 days but, depending on the severity of the situation, those days could change without notice.

"Being the United States that we are, we are ready to go out and do everything in our power to get them the relief that they need," she said.

December 30, 2004

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