Air Guard continues hurricane recovery efforts

Air National Guard Airmen and civilians assigned to the ANG Crisis Action Team facility at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland work issues in support of Hurricane Irma relief efforts. (U.S. Air National Guard photo)

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. — The Air National Guard continued its hurricane recovery efforts in multiple states today. Thousands of Airmen from nearly every state and territory were called to duty in the past weeks in the face of unprecedented back-to-back massive hurricanes that left the South reeling and broken.

Millions of homes and businesses were without power. Among them, tens of thousands of structures flooded, or completely shredded, with 50 inches of rain dumped in Texas and with wide-spread hurricane damage in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, and the Caribbean.

National Guard Bureau officials stressed during their afternoon joint operations meeting Sept. 12 that although the dangerous weather passed, the need for safety and need for the National Guard has not — as long as states request support they will remain operating, they said.

 More than 1,000 Air National Guard Airmen were on callouts last week from governors in the Southeast, some of them came from the group of 1,360 Airmen who were on duty for Hurricane Harvey.

Among the Air National Guard’s coordinated response in Irma, more than 50 ANG aircraft were flown by aircrews to assist responders in joint operations areas in Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.

In the last weeks, they airlifted evacuees, responders, and cargo, to include food and water, boats, light carts, generators, medical pallets, Humvees, and trucks. They also flew damage assessments and directed air traffic, among other work and equipment.

“Our response was rapid,” said Brig Gen. Thomas Wark, the Air National Guard’s director of Operations assigned at the Air National Guard Readiness Center on Joint Base Andrews, Md.

“Our airmen are eager to help, but the speed of airpower response can often move much faster than the legal authorities and processes that govern the use of air assets. Therefore we must ensure we do not get ahead of them [authorities] while putting the right people with the right equipment, in the right place, at the right moment,” said General Wark.

In this instance of back-to-back hurricane strikes, they will study the full responses and raise questions on how their speed took careful and critical consideration of the requirements versus accomplishing the best coordination with the states to support the effort.

Nearly 150 Airmen who operated the ANG’s crisis action center here handled that process. They coordinated around the clock to figure support through the National Guard Bureau from and to, the states along with federal agencies, international partners, regular military, and civilian responders. As such, the crisis action center here triples its staff size with augmenters during major emergencies or events.

They will take measures to improve their processes, make notes of best practices, and plan how they will better offer the Air National Guard’s unique capabilities to domestic callouts, said General Wark.

Of note was the international airlift of more than 1,207 evacuees from St. Martin in the Leeward Islands, said Lt. Col. Dan Veal, the Air National Guard’s chief of Domestic Operations.

Colonel Veal stated that the mission stood as a benchmark in how to turn a critical operation quickly from an international request managed by the crisis action center, among other available federal, state and military responders.

The Air National Guard’s unique capabilities in Kentucky, New York, and Puerto Rico proved the best resources for the mission, he said. They directed air traffic and personal movement as well as operated C-130 airlift, according to a National Guard Bureau report.

“We anticipated the need and the interagency and international coordination to get the Air National Guard’s unique response capability called on,” said Veal.

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