In the midst of one of the most active hurricane seasons to date, members of the Connecticut National Guard have become experienced rapid-response, disaster relief experts.
The disaster relief missions began for the Flying Yankees of the 103rd Airlift Wing in August, when Hurricane Harvey put the entire region of southeast Texas under water. Just days later, the winds of Hurricane Irma swept through the U.S. Virgin Islands and Florida, flattening entire cities. Then, just as recovery efforts were well underway for Irma, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, leaving the island completely destroyed. As one hurricane after another has hit the United States and its territories, the Flying Yankees have worked non-stop to provide disaster relief to devastated areas.
In response to Hurricane Harvey, the 103rd provided an airplane and crew to transport a command and control team from Andrews AFB in Maryland to Austin, Texas. It was the first Hurricane Disaster Relief Mission that the unit undertook since converting to a tactical airlift mission. Days later, the Flying Yankees were in the air again, headed to Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, with six tons of disaster relief cargo. The fact that hurricane disaster relief was a new undertaking for the 103rd did not preclude the unit from expertly showcasing the Air National Guard’s unique ability to respond rapidly and effectively in the event of a natural disaster.
“This operation is on a scale that we have not seen before,” said Master Sgt. Joshua Mead of the 103rd Logistics Readiness Squadron. “We’ve been tasked to perform like a contingency response group. Our response was quick. It usually takes around eight hours to have this amount of cargo ready. We had it packed and ready to go in two hours. We did all of the work in a quarter the amount of time.”
“We were put in alert status which means we had to be on standby and ready to go on short notice,” said 1st Lt. Brian Hinckley, a pilot with the 103rd Operations Group. “We were ready to fly within three hours. First, we flew down to Saint Thomas, which was one of the more badly-affected islands, with 6 tons of cargo, mostly generators, light stands and air conditioning units. Then we flew to San Juan, Puerto Rico. From there, we took off again with another 15 tons of cargo, but this time it was food and water for the residents of Saint Thomas. We also transported public health personnel, a civilian medical team and Air Force support and logistics personnel who were helping to rebuild the infrastructure on Saint Thomas.”
During Hurricane Irma, San Juan was a main staging area for hurricane-relief efforts. That changed after the island was decimated by Hurricane Maria; the Flying Yankees immediately adapted to the sudden change in circumstances and, within a week of Maria making landfall, they were in the air again, delivering disaster-relief cargo to Puerto Rico’s most severely-affected areas.
“Every time we were tasked with a new requirement, we were there and we were ready,” said Mead. “We had to get supplies, survivability packages, tents, generators—things that we can bring into a bare-base condition that will enable us to survive. Then, we set up an aerial port to bring in supplies, like food and water for the people who live in the disaster area.”
In addition to relief supplies, equipment, food and water, a 13 member team comprised of members of the 103rd Communications Flight and the Connecticut Army National Guard, Charlie Company, 572nd Brigade Engineer Battalion is currently working to provide communications solutions through its Joint Incident Site Communications Capability mobile trailer. The JISCC will enhance the capabilities of military teams, first responders and FEMA workers to communicate with one another which, as a result, will help to ensure timely and adequate joint-rescue efforts moving forward.