WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. – For nearly two weeks, members of the Connecticut Army National Guard’s Aviation Battalion went to work outside state borders.
Not while deployed overseas, not while training at an armory or readiness center, but by putting their skills into action to help those affected by Hurricane Florence.
On Sept. 12, 11 Guardsmen boarded, piloted and crewed a CH-47 Chinook and UH-60 Black Hawk from Windsor Locks to a facility outside Knoxville, Tenn., where they would wait for Florence to make landfall and remain in a closer proximity to respond as needed.
Over the next ten days, the teams found themselves in North Carolina responding to some of the state’s hardest hit areas. Its first mission? To transport two dozen first responders and nearly 5,000 pounds of equipment to various locations in most immediate need of support.
“Houses were flooded, roads were flooded. We thought roads were rivers, rivers were roads,” Capt. Derik Dumond, a CH-47 pilot and member of the response force, told local reporters upon the team’s return to Connecticut, Sept. 23. “It was pretty apparent that a lot of people down there needed a lot of help.”
Connecticut’s aircraft served as the vehicle for numerous equipment and supply drops around the state, delivering cots, food, and other necessities to areas like Cape Fear, N.C. With thousands of civilians out of power and the heat and humidity still on the rise, Connecticut Guardsmen also supported the delivery of air conditioning units to elder care facilities.
“It was one of the more rewarding experiences in my Connecticut Guard career,” Dumond said of the mission.
Connecticut also supported missions that saw local residents and their four-legged family members airlifted out of North Carolina communities essentially cut off by the flood waters.
“We saved around 80 stranded civilians moving them to a new location so they were in a safe and better area,” Sgt. Lindsay Errico, CH-47 Crew Chief, said. “That’s why we are here, that’s what we do, and we are happy to do it again.”
The Guard’s Black Hawk also supported search and rescue, utilizing its hoist abilities to retrieve stranded civilians. In a photo sent back by Sgt. 1st Class Stefanie Jennings, Flight Medic aboard the Black Hawk, the crew’s personnel are seen hoisting a woman’s pet dog from a severely flooded area. The woman and her other dog were also transported to safety.
The Connecticut National Guard has become no stranger to supporting relief efforts here in the United States. In 2017, over 100 Guardsmen took part in over 70 missions to help those in need after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria hit the continental United States and Puerto Rico in rapid succession.
“This is what we train for, and a major reason why many of us serve our state and nation,” Maj. Gen. Fran Evon, Adjutant General and Commander of the Connecticut National Guard, said. “To help our fellow American citizens when the need is greatest – whether it be on our nation’s soil or halfway around the world.
“From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for your boundless motivation and tireless work ethic.”