Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Good Guys

Bret Stephens has a wonderful op-ed in this morning's Wall Street Journal about the US military's relief efforts in Pakistan since the October earthquake:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan--From the air, the town of Balakot, at the lip of the Kaghan Valley in Pakistan's mountainous North-West Frontier Province, resembles pictures of Hiroshima circa late summer 1945: All but a few buildings have been reduced absolutely to rubble. There were some 50,000 people in this town on the morning of Oct. 8; a six-second earthquake that day killed an estimated 16,000 outright. Now survivors live mainly in scattered tent villages, not all of them properly winterized. And winter has begun.

The people of Balakot and dozens of other devastated towns are much on the mind of Rear Adm. Michael A. LeFever, 51, the man in charge of the U.S. military's 1,000-man, $110 million-and-counting relief effort here. "I'll never forget landing and smelling gangrene and smelling death," he says of his first trip to the disaster zone where 73,000 died. "The first couple of days were overwhelming."

It was Pakistan's good fortune in those critical days that Adm. LeFever could call in heavy-lift helicopters, particularly the tandem-rotor Chinook, from bases in nearby Afghanistan. Every road into the Frontier Province and the neighboring Azad Kashmir region had been rendered impassable by huge landslides. Every hospital in the region except one had been destroyed. The Pakistan government, which lost nearly its entire civil administration in the region as well as hundreds of soldiers, lacked the airlift capacity to bring adequate relief north and the critically injured south. The Chinooks were among the few helicopters able to reach, supply and evacuate places that, even under normal conditions, are some of the most inaccessible on earth.

Go read the whole thing. Vice President Cheney visited the region this week, and Defenselink has pictures.

I found the WSJ piece especially interesting since I have encountered Mike LeFever a couple of times in my career. He is among the best and brightest of the Navy officers I've met.