McGuire unit returns from Hurricane Rita mission

24 Sep 2005 |

As Hurricane Rita began to lash Texas and Louisiana, one of the first Air Force units to deploy in support of the storm returned here Sept. 23 after evacuating nearly 2,000 people from the path of the hurricane.

Twenty members of McGuires 621st Contingency Response Wing deployed to Beaumont, Texas, Sept. 22 to assist in the evacuation efforts at Southeast Texas Regional Airport.

The 621st CRW is one of two specialized wings in the Air Force responsible for training and rapidly deploying personnel to quickly open airfields in remote locations and extending Air Mobility Commands ability to deploy people and equipment around the globe. In Texas, the unit took advantage of its aerial port personnel and airlift planners to carry people to safety prior to the arrival of Hurricane Rita.

While hurricane evacuations isnt at the forefront of the CRWs mission, Capt. Justin Niederer, contingency response group element commander, said that it is a mission that they are ideally suited to handle.

[Responding to wartime situations] is inherent in the job we train for, but at the same point we respond to whatever pops up that maybe no one else can respond to, said Captain Niederer. Humanitarian efforts are actually a big part of our operations. We had teams that went out supporting Katrina, and many of them are still in New Orleans helping to clean up. We also had teams that went over for Tsunami relief in the Pacific, and we had teams that responded to the hurricanes in Florida last year. You name it, if they need cargo or people moved or the manpower to move it, they call us.

When Captain Niederers team received the call to leave for Texas, they had already begun preparations for a possible deployment to that area.

We had been building a team to prepare for hurricane response after the fact, said the captain. We thought wed be moving out on Sunday (Sept. 25), but yesterday afternoon (Sept. 22), they determined that they needed to move some people ahead of time. I was basically on the plane within about an hour and 15 minutes of being notified.

The members of the 621st CRW were greeted in Texas by Army and Air Force aeromedical teams, which had already begun evacuation efforts.

When we got down there, there were already evacuations in place, said Captain Niederer. There was an aeromedical evacuation team down there moving out ambulatory patients on litters, and there were a lot of local people helping out, including the local fire department, [emergency medical services], and police. When we came in, we took over the non-medical evacuation operation. We worked with the medevac unit to coordinate all airlift ensuring things ran smoothly on the ground.

In the short time Captain Niederers team was on the ground, they helped move about 700 non-medical evacuees and 1,240 patients to safety.

This team of 20 guys went down there and did things that I never would have imagined possible, said the captain. We got down there to find hundreds of people sitting on litters with doctors over them just waiting for airlift to get them out of the area. It was an eye opener when I first walked into the terminal and saw that. When you realize what youre really there for
to get those people out of the path of the storm its really a rewarding mission.

The team left the Texas airport just as Hurricane Ritas outer bands began to strike the area.

We ended up leaving Beaumont [Sept. 24] at about 1 p.m. as we were starting to get heavy winds and rain, said Captain Niederer. The weather reports we got said about three inches of rain per hour was only about five minutes away from our location.

They returned to McGuire about 24 hour hours after they left it
on very little sleep, but proud of their accomplishments.

Captain Niederer said his background as a C-130 navigator, gave him a unique perspective and appreciation for missions such as this.

Im glad that we could go out and help people who had a lot of bad things coming there way, said the captain. This has been an outstanding experience. As an AMC airlifter, you do a lot of resupply missions around the world in other countries in their times of crisis. When you can do it for your own people it is incredibly rewarding.

Air Mobility Command News Service is a service of the Internal Division
Office of Public Affairs
503 Ward Drive, Room 214
Scott Air Force Base, Illinois 62225-5335
618-229-7821

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