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Bragg Brigade Prepares to Become Flying Angels

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FAYETTEVILLE — Operation Hurricane Mitch Relief called upon a Fort Bragg division to prepare for deployment Friday afternoon.

Fort Bragg's 18th Aviation Brigade lined up for shots. The hurricane ravaged Central America has become a breeding ground for disease. The 1,500 soldiers also filled out standard deployment paperwork. They will join thousands of military personnel already in the region.

Helicopters and soldiers from the division are playing a critical hurricane relief role. They are transporting medical supplies, food, water and medical teams to flooded areas where hurricane victims are stranded.

Soldiers involved in the relief effort say the victims have been extremely grateful and friendly.

"To them, the helicopters are pretty much angels that are delivering the goods and the needed medical people to treat the folks that are ill in the cities," Task Force Commander Col. Thurmond Pittman said.

"People are glad to have us here," Fort Bragg soldier Matt Shipley said. "We've had local soldiers come up and talk to us. They teach us some of the language and try to develop friendships at night time. It's been really good."

The soldiers have to be careful or they could become victims as well.

"There are rats, so they have to maintain very good sanitary conditions," 18th Aviation Brigade Commander Col. Mike Flowers said. "With the conditions when they go out they just have to be very careful of where they land because of blowing debris. They have to make sure no one comes too close to the aircraft."

Due to their critical role, the troops will now be staying two months more than originally planned.

"There is a little concern because part of this unit that's down there is also going to Bosnia in March. But we're going to do the best we can to make sure we take care of those folks, and if possible rotate them back before they go to Bosnia."

The soldiers are now scheduled to come back February 15. While most of these soldiers say they do not mind sacrificing their holidays for some of the world's less fortunate, for a select few it is a chance to go home.

The soldiers and the American Red Cross cannot do it alone in Central America. They need your support. If you would like to help the relief efforts in Central America, WRAL and the American Red Cross will join forces Monday November 23 at 12:30 p.m. to raise money for hurricane victims.

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John McDonnell, Reporter
Doug Bricker, Photographer
Jason Darwin, Web Editor

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