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U.S. military aircraft bring displaced Egyptians home

Displaced Egyptian citizens who fled to Tunisia from violence and instability in Libya are transported aboard an Air Force C-130J from Djerba, Tunisia to Cairo, Egypt March 5, 2011. This response to the developing humanitarian crisis is part of a broader U.S. government effort to relieve suffering caused by the crisis the in Libya. (U.S. Army photo/Staff Sgt. Brendan Stephens)

Displaced Egyptian citizens who fled to Tunisia from violence and instability in Libya are transported aboard an Air Force C-130J from Djerba, Tunisia to Cairo, Egypt March 5, 2011. This response to the developing humanitarian crisis is part of a broader U.S. government effort to relieve suffering caused by the crisis the in Libya. (U.S. Army photo/Staff Sgt. Brendan Stephens)

CAIRO, Egypt -- Air Force C-130J Super Hercules aircraft from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, joined Marine Corps KC-130 aircraft March 5 in airlifting displaced Egyptian citizens here from Djerba, Tunisia.

More than 300 passengers traveled on four flights.

The aircraft and teams conducted the humanitarian shuttles in support of President Barack Obama's call to assist the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in assisting those fleeing the ongoing conflict in neighboring Libya. The Egyptian government officials asked the U.S. for help in returning evacuees from Tunisia.

Lt. Col. Charles Schlegel, the commander of the Air Force team, said the crews were glad to begin moving passengers.

His team began their contribution by delivering humanitarian supplies for USAID March 4.

"This is why we are here, so we are all glad to be able to help people get home," Colonel Schlegel said. Normally the commander of Ramstein AB's 435th Air Mobility Squadron, Colonel Schlegel is commanding a group of aircrews and contingency response personnel who are serving under U.S. Africa Command. AFRICOM is directing the Department of Defense contribution in support of the State Department.

Colonel Schlegel said 17th Air Force, the air component for AFRICOM, had put the forces together and is orchestrating the airlift from its Ramstein AB headquarters.

"They have done a great job of coordinating the effort," he said. "We stand ready to support the State Department and any requests they have."

For now, the effort involves making sure passengers are safely moved from the developing humanitarian crisis on Libya's borders to their home country. As the displaced Egyptian citizens stepped off the ramps of the Super Hercules and onto Egyptian soil, they showed their gratitude to the American crews with handshakes and simple words of thanks, most coming in Arabic. A customs official waiting to welcome his countrymen home elaborated.

"Thank you for helping us in this difficult time," he said. "Our regards to the American people, and our regards to Mr. Obama".

The joy expressed by the passengers lifted the spirits of the crew as well, who were weary after a duty day that began 15 hours earlier. Staff Sgt. John-Paul Hansen, a loadmaster helping with the efforts, said the clapping and cheering from the evacuees made it all worthwhile.

"It makes you not tired anymore," Sergeant Hansen said. "It feels wonderful to have someone go back and be excited to be home. It's a long day for us, but it's well worth it to help someone to get home and get back to their family."

Sergeant Hansen, and his colleagues with the 37th Airlift Squadron, finished the day preparing for more humanitarian missions in the days ahead. The relief effort, which began less than 24 hours after President Obama directed the military support, is expected to continue as part of a broader U.S. government effort.

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