Library Fact Sheets
LAJES FIELD HISTORY - HUMANITARIAN EFFORTS, 1980S AND 1990S|
Printable Fact Sheet
On 1 January 1980, an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale struck Terceira Island. Damage to Lajes Field was minimal, however there was extensive destruction to Portuguese communities throughout the island. Military personnel responded with food, shelter, equipment and manpower.
The 1605th Air Base Wing Crisis Action Team became the focus for disaster relief operations by all U.S. forces and a coordination point with Portuguese military and civil authorities. Teams of U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy, civilian and dependent personnel were organized and dispatched into the communities hardest hit by the quake.
These teams were engaged in clearing roads, digging through rubble and helping Portuguese families move their belongings to protected shelters. The base set up the gymnasium as a reception point for displaced Portuguese and American families. Dining facilities went on 24-hour operation feeding earthquake victims and emergency relief volunteers. Temporary housing was provided on base in dormitories.
By 15 January, 150 families were housed in base facilities. Heavy equipment was used extensively by Civil Engineers to supplement the Portuguese machines that were clearing roads, moving rubble, toppling dangerous structures and in other ways facilitating the emergency operations. Base civil engineers provided generators to restore power to the Angra hospital, Angra bakery, and the Praia telephone system. For two weeks, U.S. forces assisted disaster recovery until Portuguese agencies had a firm hand on the situation.
The 1980 earthquake was just one of the many relief efforts made by the American personnel in the history of Lajes Field. In 1963, six weeks of severe wind prevented Portuguese supply ships from reaching Santa Maria Island. The 1605th Air Base Wing coordinated to divert a C-124 to Lajes where it was loaded with five tons of food. The C-124 then airdropped the food to Santa Maria helping the residents survive until the next shipment arrived. In 1964, a series of earthquakes struck the island of Sao Jorge destroying homes and leaving thousands of people homeless. Many Sao Jorge residents made their way to Terceira Island.
The 1605th Air Base Wing provided blankets, mattresses, pillows, and sheets to Terceira's hospitals and relief centers. Other MATS and Air National Guard units flew in clothing from California to Lajes. The clothing was loaded onto U.S. Army Port landing crafts. These landing crafts delivered the clothing to Sao Jorge. In addition, housing for 200 Portuguese families of Sao Jorge was provided by the U.S. Forces Azores through a People-to-People project.
The housing was in the form of 100 Quonset huts provided by the U.S. Navy. Recently, US Forces Azores coordinated with the assistance of the 65th Air Base Wing, a Marine deployment for training to repair flood damage on the island of Sao Miguel in 1998.
It was not only in times of trouble that the U.S. personnel at Lajes assisted the local community. The People-to-People program was a foreign aid program initiated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956 made up of civic leaders and businesses. U.S. Forces Azores command coordinated many of the People-to-People projects throughout the Azores Island.
Some of the projects included constructing local water wells, stocking trout in Furnas lake on Sao Miguel Island, and airlifting different breeds of livestock to the island. The Lajes Chapel Base Charitable Organization has collected foodstuff and items for delivery to those local families in need. In 1998, a Marine construction unit deployed to Lajes to construct a fire training tower for local civil protection authorities.
The U.S. military has always tried to be a good neighbor with our Portuguese host in good times and in times of trouble. In 1998 a precedent was establish when Lajes Field conducted an exercise (Strong Partner I) with Portuguese military and civic authorities to practice relief efforts for an earthquake. As seen with the 1980 earthquake, it was an all too real situation and one in which preparedness could make the difference.
As Lajes entered the 1980s, a change in the organizational structure of the Wing took place. On 1 January 1982, the 1605th Air Base Wing was redesignated the 1605th Military Support Airlift Support Wing. The major change involved reassigning the Air Terminal Operations section, formerly under the 1605th Transportation Squadron, and the Wing Command Post and Station Operations sections to aircraft maintenance squadron and redesignating that squadron the 1605th Military Airlift Support Squadron.
This move would also take Lajes away from being an en route aircraft maintenance facility to an en route support facility. However, station air traffic continued along at a steady rate. Transiting aircraft, crews and personnel participating in exercises such as Bright Star and the annual REFORGER (Return of Forces to Germany) were still making their way through Lajes.
The 1980s were also marked with a high construction growth. A new addition was placed on the gymnasium and a new commissary was built. In addition, many of those 1950s-era facilities were refurbished. The construction of Beira Mar housing and new dormitories made life at Lajes more comfortable.
In the summer of 1984, Lajes undertook a new mission. EC-135s began operating out of Lajes Field. This operation, known as the Silk Purse Control Group, functioned as an airborne command post for U.S. Commander-in-Chief of Europe. Along with the aircraft came U.S. European Command battle staffs and flight crews from United States Air Forces in Europe.
Each crew included communication system operators and aircraft maintenance personnel. Also, additional security forces personnel were assigned to protect the area. The Silk Purse mission was highly classified and little was known of its activities at Lajes, but overall its mission was deterring aggression from the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the Silk Purse mission was deactivated and the last Silk Purse mission rolled out in late August 1991.
Lajes Enters the 1990s
The 1990s brought about the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War. However, this brought about many challenges to the United States and the U.S. military. With global balance in disorder, many nations were free to choose their own course of action. However, for some nations this course led to disputes between neighbors and its own citizens. Also with the demise of the Soviet Union, the U.S. military budget shrank. The U.S. military was faced with reducing its force and infrastucture while at the same time answering the world's call for help.