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Hurricane Harvey alert highlights Air National Guard relief missions

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By STAFF SGT. KRISTINA OVERTON

What is it like flying hurricane relief missions?

When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, our unit was having its regular drill weekend.

All of our aircraft were pre-flighted just in case, crews were assigned, and we stood by awaiting orders.

Each crew was put on mandatory 12-hour crew rest and Bravo stand-by status. There are different alert statuses that are used to determine how long you’ll have prior to reporting (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie). Bravo provided adequate response time for this mission: a launch within three hours from alert.

On Monday morning, Aug. 28, we got the order.

I was notified with the following text from my aircraft commander:

“Alerted! 14:15. Report in one hour. Takeoff at 17:15. No details on location. Acknowledge.”

The clock was now ticking. I live 20 minutes away from base and by the time I arrived at Operations, our location was set.

Our first mission was to shuttle members and gear from the 137th Special Operations Medical Group from Oklahoma City to George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. They had also answered the call to assist with Hurricane Harvey relief and would be working alongside our team from 136th Medical Group.

It was eerily quiet at Houston Center. George Bush Intercontinental is the 14th busiest airport in the country, and we were the only ones operating in its airspace at the time. Commercial airline service had been suspended at both Intercontinental and Hobby airports.

While the Oklahoma Air Guard offloaded, we visited with two Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting members. They have specialized vehicles for dealing with aircraft fires. They told us that this event was the first time they had taken their vehicles outside of the airport and were performing water rescues with them. They had no idea if they could pull it off and if the vehicles would make it.

Pretty amazing story of doing whatever it takes to get the job done.

We headed back to Naval Station Fort Worth for our next assignment to find our ramp was full of C-130H2 Hercules. Some were ours, and some were from other states that were helping out.

The base had been busy—very busy!

Normally, the airfield closes to operations at 11 p.m. daily. Now, our base was a massive staging location for hurricane relief logistics.

Our assignment changed again and this time we were flying urgent Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) supplies to Ellington Field: 29 tons of water, food and blankets. It’s about an hour down to Houston by C-130. We offloaded
again and headed back to base. By the time I made it home, it was 5:15 the next morning—15 hours after being alerted. I washed up, crawled into bed, kissed my wife good morning and passed out.

Now, our unit, 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard, has
flown more than 100 sorties in support of Hurricane Harvey. We have
C-130s from the Illinois, Wyoming, Missouri, New York, Georgia, Delaware and Kentucky Air National Guards
on our ramp. Together, we’ve evacuated families, and moved cargo and
personnel from the wings to help the effort.

While the crews cycle through this Groundhog Day of flying, rest, and Bravo stand-by and alert, we have maintainers and operations at our squadron around-the-clock generating flyable aircraft, passenger manifests and cargo loads. It’s a symphony
that is amazing to witness. We each play our small part to keep those C-130 missions going all day and night.

We watch the sun rise. We watch the sun set. n