Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Air Guard Assists Thousands Displaced by Gustav

By Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith, Special to American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Sept. 2, 2008 - With tens of thousands of Gulf Coast residents in the potential path of Hurricane Gustav during the Labor Day weekend, Air National Guard members put aside their last-minute school shopping and backyard picnics to bring their states' Guard airpower to the displaced.

Taking to the skies Aug. 30 and 31 were Air Guard aeromedical evacuation squadrons from at least four states. They deployed their aircrews, aircraft and medical specialists to a mobile air staging facility in Carswell, Texas. In total, the team air evacuated more than 473 patients. At least seven other states prepared aeromedical teams to respond to calls for emergency assistance.

In all, the National Guard's soldiers and airmen helped evacuate nearly 17,000 Gulf Coast residents via the skies and roadways, including 325 special-needs patients, from New Orleans before the storm's arrival yesterday.

A medical team of Air Guard members including five C-130 Hercules aircraft and a Delaware Air Guard C-130 and airmen from West Virginia, Oklahoma and Tennessee helped airlift at least 247 patients from Beaumont, Texas. The patients were medically assessed, monitored and flown out of the storm's path to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. The highly trained flight medics then boarded their aircraft and flew to Belle Chasse Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base outside New Orleans to assist in the Guard's continued Gustav relief missions.

"The Air National Guard medical community is honored and humbled to bring our medical talent and compassion to communities in times of need," said Air Force Col. (Dr.) Constance McNabb, Texas Military Forces joint surgeon, in a state news release. "Helping other people is why Guard medics serve."

On the receiving end, more than 160 Kentucky Air Guard members in Louisville assisted thousands of displaced people who were flown out of New Orleans on commercial aircraft to the Kentucky Air National Guard Base there. They were then taken by bus to Red Cross shelters at the Louisville fairgrounds and in Lexington.

"Kentucky is a reception state to displaced persons being evacuated from New Orleans via commercial airlines," Air Force Capt. Dale Greer, Kentucky Guard spokesman, said. He reported that the hurricane evacuation was a multi-agency effort calling on the resources of federal, state and local governments, as well as the American Red Cross.

Other Air Guard members at McGee Tyson Air Guard Base in Knoxville, Tenn., and in Nashville and Memphis, received similar evacuee missions at their bases.

Still other Air Guard units positioned their states' assets around the nation to better support potential storm-damaged states after Gustav's landfall.

In West Virginia, Air Guard aircrews and their C-130s from the 130th Airlift Wing in Charleston transported a special joint National Guard communications support team with their radio, telephone, video and satellite equipment to Little Rock, Ark., Aug. 31.

A Mississippi C-17 Globemaster III transport jet and aircrew of the 172nd Airlift Wing – which flies the nation's aeromedical evacuation missions from Balad Air Base, Iraq – flew to Anchorage, Alaska, and delivered two Army Guard HH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to Jackson, Miss.

In Sioux City, Iowa, an aircrew from the 185th Air Refueling Wing flew their KC-135 Stratotanker and transported 50 Army Guard members and equipment from the state to Alexandria, La.

In all, Guard officials said nearly 14,000 National Guard airmen and soldiers were positioned with their equipment over the holiday weekend.

The Kansas Air Guard's 190th Air Refueling Wing, which flew the state's 35th Infantry Division advance-party soldiers to Alexandria, La. -- Two Nevada Air Guard aircrews and C-130s from the 152nd Airlift Wing flew to the Gulf Coast area to prepare for airlift missions.

The New York Air Guard deployed 15 aeromedical airmen from the 109th Airlift Wing, as well as two HH-60 Pave Hawk rescue helicopters and 16 airmen from the 106th Rescue Wing. In Mississippi, the 186th Air Refueling Wing in Meridian was on full alert with an RC-26 reconnaissance aircraft and aircrew to assist in hurricane response missions. The California Air Guard deployed 19 airmen, including pararescuemen and two HH-60s, and was planning to deploy additional Airmen, aircraft and pararescue equipment to the Gulf Coast.