Operation Unified Assistance
On 28 December, the first elements of the Combined Support Force (CSF-536) were deployed to Utapao, Thailand following that country's approval of the use of that base.
More than 12,600 Department of Defense personnel were involved in the relief effort.
The United States offered assistance from its troops stationed in Japan.
The United States military participated in the Combined Coordination Center.
The United States dispatched numerous C-5 Galaxy and C-17 Globemaster III strategic airlifters and ten C-130 Hercules tactical airlifters containing disaster supplies, nine P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft for search and rescue support, and several teams from the Departments of State and Defense to coordinate additional assistance. They are using Utapao Naval Air Base in Thailand as their regional hub. The deployment of the 615th Air Mobility Operations Group from Travis Air Force Base, California, established a tanker airlift control element where personnel assisted with the safe movement of 6,685 passengers, 5,444 cargo tons of relief supplies and medical aid on 817 airlift missions.
Carrier Strike Group Nine, led by the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, which was in port in Hong Kong, was dispatched to the coast of Sumatra to provide support to the Indonesian province of Aceh. Other ships in the group were the guided-missile cruiser Shiloh; the guided-missile destroyers Shoup and Benfold, and the fast combat support ship Rainier.
In addition, an Expeditionary Strike Group led by the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard, scheduled for a port call in Guam, was dispatched to render assistance. A total of 48 Navy and Marine Corps helicopters were involved. Each ship could produce around 90,000 US gallons of fresh water per day. Other ships in the group were amphibious transport dock Duluth, the guided-missile destroyer Milius, the dock landing ship Rushmore, the guided-missile frigate Thach, the nuclear-powered submarine Pasadena, guided-missile cruiser Bunker Hill, and the coast guard cutter Munro.
In January 2005, 24 Navy ships and one Coast Guard vessel were in the area. Among those ships was the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) which relieved the USS Bonhomme Richard and assumed the duties as the primary rotary wing platform for the operation. The USS Essex brought helicopter detachments from US Navy helicopter squadrons HM-15 and HC-5 as well as Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (HMM-262), the Flying Tigers (commanded by Lt.Col. Kevin "Doogie" Wild). The last ship, Mercy, departed the region in April 2005.
During a short-fused change of command on 30 December 2004, LtCol Kevin H. Wild assumed command of HMM-262 and promptly received a Warning Order to deploy to Sumatra, Indonesia for its second consecutive short-notice deployment in two months. The squadron worked around the clock over the New Year’s weekend preparing for the deployment. Two CH-46Es were flown to Kadena AB on 31 December and broken down for C-5 transport to Singapore, and six more were flown aboard the USS Fort McHenry (LSD-43) on 3 January. With a detachment of the squadron in Singapore, and the majority of HMM-262 aboard the Fort McHenry, HMM-262 set sail as part of Combined Support Force 536 (CSF-536) to support the largest humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR) operation in history – Operation Unified Assistance/JTF-536.
HMM-262The Flying Tigers conducted a mission rehearsal in Phuket on 16 February, followed by mission rehearsals in Banda Aceh on 17-18 February. HMM-262 flew the two former Presidents of the United States (FPOTUS), several ambassadors, numerous diplomatic personnel and members of the Secret Service along the western coast of Thailand north of Phuket on 19 February. Once mission complete, the aircraft recovered aboard the Fort McHenry as it pushed south towards Sumatra to fly FPOTUS Bush and Clinton around the Banda Aceh area on 20 February. The highlight of the mission occurred when FPOTUS Bush and FPOTUS Clinton were flown aboard the USS Fort McHenry to visit the Marines and Sailors of HMM-262 and the Sailors of the USS Fort McHenry. The Flying Tigers enjoyed an unscheduled liberty port in Phuket from 21-24 February once the FPOTUS missions were complete. On 25 February, the USS Fort McHenry began the trip back to Okinawa, Japan. The morning of 3 March, the USS Fort McHenry was approximately 50 miles south of Okinawa as HMM-262 flew six CH-46Es ashore for its return to Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma. The remainder of the aircraft and personnel returned via C-17 from Singapore.
Indonesian public opinion of the United States markedly improved in the year after the tsunami, jumping from 15% in 2003 to 38% in 2005, going against the general trend of less favorable attitudes towards America in that time period. Many Indonesians surveyed indicated that American relief efforts generally improved their view of the United States.
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