- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2000

LIMA, Peru The 459th Airlift Wing, an Air Force Reserve unit stationed at Andrews Air Force Base, has delivered tanks, choppers and guns to hot spots around the world. The Maryland unit's mission to Peru this past weekend, however, was a little different.
There, among the usual assortment of military and diplomatic supplies loaded onto pallets in the hold of the crew's C-141 cargo plane, sat one farm tractor, one horse trailer and a host of gardening tools, including shovels and rakes.
The cargo, donated by a philanthropist in California and destined for a small, poverty-stricken village high in the Andes, was airlifted to Lima Friday at no cost under a federal program that offers humanitarian groups the use of unutilized cargo space on military transports around the world.
The Denton Program, named for former Sen. Jeremiah Denton, Alabama Republican, was created 15 years ago but has taken off in recent years as Americans have scrambled to provide humanitarian aid in the wake of natural disasters such as Hurricane Mitch and the manmade destruction in Yugoslavia. The program has made it possible for private American groups to send textbooks to Kenya, a firetruck to Nicaragua, and, this past weekend, farming equipment to the Rev. Andres Pelayo Lira and the Convent San Francisco De Asis in Ayacucho.
"The tractor and the other tools will be used to teach students at the mission school to grow vegetables for the church and for sale in the local markets," said the priest, speaking through an interpreter.
Father Lira, who arrived at the mission 10 years ago when the guerrillas known as the Shining Path terrorized much of the surrounding countryside, said life has improved as the rebel movements have died out. But, the priest said, there are still far too many Peruvians lacking basic necessities of life: clothing, clean water, food, shelter and education.
Gifts like the tractor, the priest said, can change things for the better and he took the opportunity Saturday to thank the Americans involved in the humanitarian project, including Delores Tukich, the California woman who donated the equipment, and members of the Peruvian-American Medical Doctors Society, the group that applied to the Denton Program on behalf of the effort.
Father Lira also personally thanked the Air Force reservists who delivered the gift to Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima, shaking hands as he made the rounds on a sun-baked tarmac outside the plane.
"Deep, deep thanks to all of you," he said. "This is the best way to unite our countries."
Col. John Allen, the officer in charge of the three-day trip, said the humanitarian missions are welcomed by his crews.
"Over the years, we've hauled bombs, munitions, you name it, all over the world. But when you do this kind of mission, delivering humanitarian supplies, you get a special feeling of accomplishment. We're proud to do it," said Col. Allen, who is an inspector with the Federal Aviation Administration when he's not flying jets for the Air Force.
The plane left Andrews Thursday afternoon for a 90-minute hop to Charleston, S.C., where the cargo was loaded and the troops stayed overnight.
Early Friday morning, the plane headed for Lima, eight hours away, arriving in time for dinner after unloading. The next morning, it was back into the hold of the mammoth C-141 for the nine-hour trip back home.
"It's great to be a part of this," said Craig Stewart, a Maryland Natural Resources Police officer who serves as a jet mechanic in the Reserves. "It's gratifying to know that what we did this weekend is going to help these people's lives."
Col. Hugo Davalos, an orthopedic surgeon from Alexandria who serves in the Reserves as a flight surgeon, said his experiences on humanitarian missions in Peru, Paraguay and the Honduras are eye-openers.
"A lot of Americans think poverty is not being able to buy a new car," he said. "When you see the conditions that some of these people live in, it helps you to better understand what real poverty is and just how blessed we really are."

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