SEBRING, Fla. - Airmen from the 202nd REDHORSE have bedded down at the county fairgrounds here.
The 202nd is a highly mobile,world-wide deployable response force that operates in battle and natural disasters.
Lt. Col. Theresa Travis, operations officer for the 202nd, said the plan was to position the REDHORSE Airmen before Hurricane Irma hits so they were poised and ready for action.
"Once the storm passes, we give a battle damage assessment," said Travis. REDHORSE translates to "rapid engineer deployable heavy operational repair squadron engineer," which describes the unit's function.
Travis said after a storm, especially one of this magnitude, widespread damage and debris close roadways and airports. The 202nd is called up for the most catastrophic jobs after a disaster. It's impossible to know what they'll find when they emerge from shelter.
"Bottom line, there's a lot of chaos built into all these plans," said Travis. "The storm changes or different details change along the way. It's a fluid situation."
Although the community looks to these first responders to be fearless during these times of uncertainty, they are human too.
"I'm a little nervous; this is my first real big hurricane that I've been through," said Senior Airman Steven Lumpkins, structures journeyman for the 202nd. "I'm really looking forward to it - to go out there and give a hand, make sure everything is safe and sound, and put everything back to normalcy."
There is a deep sense of pride in wearing the uniform, especially in moments of complete chaos. Travis explained that in addition to their official professions, service members represent something larger during times like these.
"We're out there being ambassadors," said Travis. "When the local population sees people in uniform…just seeing us creates an ambiance of calm and hopefully collected positive responses."
The 202nd shows up with multiple teams, such as airfield recovery, road clearance and line all, ready to sprint into action at a moment's notice.
Currently, the target is Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, said Chief Master Sgt. Donald Pettyjohn, operations chief for the 202nd. The main objective is route clearing, and then runway clearing. This is the main objective to reopen the airport as fast as possible to bring in more equipment, supplies and support for the southernmost areas of the state.
Pettyjohn emphasized this by leaving his team with one final thought before departing.
"People, that's what we're built for," Pettyjohn said. "This is why we're here. We're built for hurricanes."