US Marines use Grand Cayman as staging area for hurricane aid

Hurricane relief came swooping in to Owen Roberts International Airport in three Super Stallion helicopters Monday afternoon.

The U.S. Marine Corps sent a force of 40 Marines in the Sikorsky helicopters, the heaviest in the U.S. arsenal, to help in the regional humanitarian relief mission. These Marines, based in Honduras, are part of a larger joint mission between several branches of the American military.

U.S. Marines arrive in helicopters at Owen Roberts International Airport in Grand Cayman as part of regional hurricane-relief efforts. – PHOTO: TANEOS RAMSAY

“We know the general area we’re going, but we don’t know specifics yet about locations,” said Maj. Matt Weaver, who hails from Seattle, Washington, of the Special Forces Marine Air-Ground Task Force.

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“It’s always good to get out and use the machines for what they’re for.”

The Marines were not on the ground for long, as they waited to fuel up their helicopters and then got right back in the air to fly to disaster-stricken areas. The Super Stallions, which are 99 feet long and weigh more than 33,000 pounds, were introduced to the U.S. Armed Forces in 1981.

Five other American aircraft were also slated to arrive in Cayman on Monday, but they had not touched down as of press time. The Cayman Islands Airports Authority was expecting three UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters and a contingent from the U.S. Air National Guard C-130 disaster response team.

U.S. Marine Corps Sikorsky helicopters arrive on Grand Cayman.

Hurricane Irma tore a path through the island nations of the Caribbean, damaging the Leeward Islands and passing through Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba. Millions of homes in the region have lost power, and the Associated Press reported that there have been at least 34 fatalities.

More than 10,000 active-duty and reserve service members, plus civilians in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, are part of Hurricane Irma relief operations, and the U.S. Northern Command is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide life-sustaining relief to people in affected areas.

“I think it’s probably about what everybody expected,” said Major Weaver of the damage wrought by Irma.

“Once it reaches Category 5, there’s going to be loss of life and a lot of damage,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of places that need relief. And there aren’t a whole lot of gray helicopters laying around.”

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