Wednesday, September 03, 2008

AMC poised to support post-hurricane operations

by Mark D. Diamond, Air Mobility Command Public Affairs

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- Air Mobility Command planners and operators held a collective breath as Hurricane Gustav made landfall Sept. 1.

Although most AMC aircraft and personnel were pulled back from the U.S. Gulf Coast area Aug. 31 -- hours before the hurricane's projected landfall -- the command was still fully engage in relief operations, preparing for any airlift or aeromedical evacuation requirements that could come in the aftermath of the giant storm.

According the Col. A. Ray Myers, director of the 618th Tanker Airlift Control Center's Hurricane Gustav Contingency Response Cell, when evacuation operations ended Aug. 31, 618th TACC planners changed focus to prepare for possible air mobility requirements following the hurricane.

Colonel Myers said more than 50 aircraft and 100 aircrews were placed on alert, ready to immediately assist relief operations.

He said post-hurricane requirements could involve anything from aeromedical evacuation and transport of emergency personnel, to delivering humanitarian aid, such as food, water or equipment.

Command, control and coordination of air mobility support to Hurricane Gustav evacuation efforts was provided by the 618th TACC. The center plans an average of 900 airlift and air refueling missions each day and is able to use that capability to meet requirements for contingency or humanitarian relief operations.

According to 618th TACC officials, TACC planners began gearing up for Hurricane Gustav nearly a week before the hurricane made landfall.

Maj. Gen. Mark S. Solo, 618th TACC commander, said his air operations center begins to posture mobility forces as soon as a hurricane is identified as having potential to strike the United States.

The 618th TACC began prepositioning aircraft Aug. 28 as Gustav showed his path toward the southern U.S. Equipment and emergency personnel, such as aeromedical evacuation teams and contingency response group elements were airlifted to several areas along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

AE teams facilitated movement of special-needs patients - from the critically ill to expectant mothers - and the CRG elements established airfield operations in support of the massive hurricane evacuation.

According to 618th TACC officials, Air Mobility aircraft transported about 725 patients and more than 6,500 general population evacuees.

"What the military brings to any humanitarian operation is adaptive planning and dynamic execution," said Col. Bryan Benson, 618th TACC deputy commander.

He said the men and women of the 618th TACC are expertly prepared to plan and execute any mission, humanitarian or contingency.

"If it looks effortless, it isn't," Colonel Benson said. "The coordination between federal, state, local agencies and the military components requires a great deal of preparation in order to be successful. Those efforts are paying huge dividends today."

Lt. Gen. Vern M. "Rusty" Findley II, AMC vice commander, applauded the efforts of AMC personnel.

From the 618th TACC and AMC Crisis Action Team to the aircrews, aeromedical evacuation teams and contingency response group elements, the general said AMC was fully engaged and delivering outstanding results.

"These folks are the execution arm of this great element of airpower that we call air mobility," he said. "They made the mission happen. It certainly proved again what a true total force effort we can muster in a time of crisis."

The general also applauded AMC's Total Force partners who participated in the effort.

"As always, I'm thankful for the great teamwork from our Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard men and women, and our [Air Education and Training Command] partners at Altus and Little Rock," General Findley said.

Although AMC paused AE and airlift operations as Gustav made landfall, the general said the command stands ready to assist in the aftermath of the storm.

"We are poised and ready for any requirements and challenges that will come in the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav," General Findley said.

The 618th TACC is no stranger to humanitarian operations.

During Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the 618th TACC tasked nearly 900 sorties to support relief efforts, and mobility forces moved more than 14,600 passengers, nearly 3,000 patients, and hauled the equivalent of 686 semi-truckloads of supplies to and from the Gulf Coast region.

After setting up the contingency response cell during Katrina, TACC Airmen rapidly turned requirements into missions for humanitarian airlift assistance to people on the Gulf Coast. Within the first 24 hours of Katrina's landfall, the TACC aggressively moved search-and-rescue teams and their equipment to Louisiana, and then quickly shifted focus to a hub-and-spoke operation to bring in supplies and rescue patients. This included moving Contingency Response Group elements from the 615th Contingency Response Wing at Travis AFB, Calif., and the 621st CRW at McGuire AFB, N.J., to the area to establish airfield operations.