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Airmen bring relief to residents hit by Sandy

Nov. 3, 2012 - 10:59AM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 3, 2012 - 10:59AM  |  
A New York Air National Guard helicopter carrying Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer on a trip to assess storm damage flies toward Manhattan on Oct. 31.
A New York Air National Guard helicopter carrying Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer on a trip to assess storm damage flies toward Manhattan on Oct. 31. (Mark Lennihan / AP)
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As residents along the East Coast struggled with power outages and other problems caused by Hurricane Sandy, airmen were on the scene helping rescue people and giving them a place to stay and something to eat.

About 40 airmen from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., headed to March Air Reserve Base, Calif., to help load close to 70 trucks from the Southern California Edison utility company onto C-5 and C-17 aircraft bound for Stewart Air National Guard Base in New York, said Travis spokeswoman Capt. Melissa Milner.

In New York and New Jersey, which were hit hardest by the storm, the Air National Guard sprang into action.

Eight members of the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing used zodiac boats to rescue people in Atlantic Beach and Staten Island, said Capt. Glyn Weir of the wing's 103rd Rescue Squadron.

When they arrived at Atlantic Beach, winds were still blowing at 90 mph, Weir said, and the scene was chaotic.

"The water in the roads was knee-high to waist-, in some places, chest-deep," he said. "There were power lines down, trees down, transformers going, cars all over the place up to their windshields with water. A lot of times their lights were on and blinking. A lot of the trunks were popped open — I guess once the water hits the electrical system, it pops the trunk open for some reason. Debris all over the place."

The airmen picked up one man who had abandoned his car after it stalled in the water and treated him for hypothermia, Weir said. Then, they saw a Jeep floating in the water with someone inside.

"Wound up being a police officer who was trying to get to work," he said. "So they picked him up and brought him back and we tried to get him — throughout the night as the water level changed — we tried to get him to work a few times. He made it. He was late that day."

The 106th Rescue Wing also used an HC-130 to survey the damage to Long Island, said Eric Durr, a spokesman with the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs.

Meanwhile, airmen with the 174th Attack Wing in Syracuse and the 109th Airlift Wing at Stratton Air National Guard Base secured a total of 50 Humvees to ferry around police and firefighters, Durr said.

"It's a nice joint operation: We got blue drivers in green vehicles," he said.

In New Jersey, more than 200 airmen from Air Guard units were manning shelters that offered displaced residents food, clothing and a place to sleep, said Capt. April Doolittle, a spokeswoman for the 108th Wing of the New Jersey Air National Guard.

One of those airmen was Master Sgt. Jill Moore, first sergeant for the 108th Mission Support Group. Because of ongoing communications difficulties in New Jersey, she could be reached only by email.

When asked what memories she will take away from the experience, Moore wrote: "Words of thanks from civilians. The sight of transformers blowing up. Cheers of joy when electricity came back. Eating MREs. Civilians throwing salutes at our vehicles and people dropping off food as thanks."

The Guard also has helicopters available if governors of affected states need them, Lt. Gen. Harry "Bud" Wyatt, director of the Air National Guard, told "This Week in Defense News" host vmuradian@militarytimes.com?subject=Question from AirForceTimes.com reader">Vago Muradian.

"Remember that we work with the Army National Guard very closely as to provide that capability, security forces, medical forces, communication," Wyatt said in the interview for the Nov. 4 program. "Logisticians are very important when we get into an event like this. All of this coordinated with the National Guard Bureau and the United States Air Force [and] Department of Defense."

As Hurricane Sandy approached, the Air Force scrambled to move aircraft out of the path of the storm and batten down the hatches.

Both permanent change-of-station moves and temporary duty assignments to Fort Meade, Md., and Dover Air Force Base, Del., were suspended from Oct. 29 to Oct. 31 by the commanders of the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing and the 436th Airlift Wing, said Air Force Personnel Center spokesman Mike Dickerson.

Four C-5Bs flew from Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass., to MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.; and Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., hosted nine C-17s: three from Dover and six from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., officials said.

Most Air Force bases on the East Coast experienced minor damage with the exception of Joint Base Andrews, Md., where the roof of a storage warehouse was severely damaged by leaking water and will have to be replaced, said Eric Sharman, a spokesman for the 11th Wing.

None of the aircraft at Dover was seriously damaged by the storm, and the base's runway resumed operating at midnight Oct. 31, officials said.

Flights also resumed at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., two days after the storm, base spokesman Capt. Matthew Miller said.

"When you get back and you're doing your recovery, part of the thing you have to take into account is making sure the airfield is completely clear of FOD [foreign object debris] and so that's part of the reason why we didn't get back to flying. We wanted to make sure that the airfield was completely clear and clean before we actually got in the air," Miller said.

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