Monday, September 01, 2008

Reserve teams answer calls for help

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. (AFPN) -- More than 300 Gulf Coast patients were able to breathe a sigh of relief Sep. 1 thanks to Air Force Reserve aeromedical crews as Hurricane Gustav slammed into Terrebonne Bay, La., just west of New Orleans, at about 10:30 EST.

Because more than 50 air evacuation flights had carried them to safety, the area's hospital and nursing home patients were able to escape the storm's wrath by traveling through staging areas in Beaumont, Texas, and Lake Charles and Lakefront, La.

"Federal response efforts identified these three aeromedical patient staging areas," said Col. Mike Dankosky, aeromedical evacuation program manager for Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command here. "Over the past 48 hours, regular Air Force, Reserve and Air National Guard aeromedical forces provided immediate capability to transport 100 percent of those medical patients identified for movement by Louisiana state officials."

Before the hurricane made landfall, patients were safely transported under medical supervision to various predetermined medical treatment facilities away from the storm's path. AFRC provides more than 60 percent of the Air Force's aeromedical evacuation capability.

"Days before federal requests for assistance and command taskings were received in support of Hurricane Gustav relief and rescue efforts, an overwhelming volunteer response began to build," said Colonel Dankosky. "Aeromedical crews and operational support personnel from the majority of AFRC's 18 aeromedical evacuation squadrons volunteered."

Due to operational and airlift sourcing considerations, Reservists were sourced from only eight squadrons: 34th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.; 433rd AES, Lackland AFB, Texas; 439th AES, Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass.; 445th AES, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio; 514th AES, McGuire AFB, N.J.; 908th AES, Maxwell AFB, Ala.; 911th AES, Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station, Pa.; and 932nd AES, Scott AFB, Ill.

The command is providing C-5 Galaxy cargo aircraft support from the 433rd AW at Lackland AFB and 439th AW at Westover ARB. With nearly 50 percent of the Air Force's strategic airlift capability, the command is able to support the relief efforts with more aircraft and crews if required.

Rescue helicopters and crews from the 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick AFB, Fla., and 305th Rescue Squadron at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., are positioning to Ellington Field in Houston and to Jackson, Miss. As the storm passes through, the rescue teams are ready to assist as needed. AFRC provides 23 percent of the Air Force's total rescue capability.

"Air Force reservists were the first Air Force rescue crews into New Orleans after (Hurricane) Katrina," said Lt. Col. Julio Lopez, combat search and rescue program manager for the command. "Our crews are eager to get in there and help as soon as possible. In fact, it's difficult to hold them back."

Prior to the hurricane making landfall, AFRC's Hurricane Hunters flew in and out of the storm as it formed and moved toward the Gulf Coast. Based out of Keesler AFB, Miss., the 403d Wing flies special WC-130J aircraft and represents the only Air Force weather reconnaissance capability.