ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands - Air National Guard units from three U.S. states combined assets, manpower and expertise to provide critical control of military airlift to the heavily battered island of St. Thomas in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
Airmen from the 133rd Airlift Wing in Minneapolis, 146th Airlift Wing in Camarillo, California, and 161st Air Refueling Wing in Phoenix, Arizona, demonstrated the real world capability of the Airlift Control Flight (ALCF) beginning Sept. 9, as they began to manage 24 hour flight operations at the Cyril E. King International Airport.
"Stepping off the airplane we met a FEMA logistics representative who said that he was quickly becoming overwhelmed, was glad we were here and that the airfield was ours," said Lt. Col Jared Miller, 146th Airlift Control Flight operations officer. " He provided us with some real estate, we set up our [command and control] trailer, our billeting, and we went to work."
An ACLF, soon to be recognized as a Contingency Response Flight, is a compact force, capable of short notice worldwide deployment to any airfield, to set up mobile command and control of contingency, humanitarian, or exercise missions.
Airmen selected to staff or support the function are trained in such specialties as logistics, air transportation, operations, communications, weather, security and equipment maintenance.
Like many ACLF members, air transportation specialist Tech. Sgt. Michael Gunderson, is a traditional Guard member, and was required to leave his civilian employment to support the recovery efforts in St. Thomas. As the manager of a youth sports program, the timing and short notice were difficult to accommodate, but worth the sacrifice.
"This is why we do what we do," Gunderson said. "It's an opportunity to help people who need help, and I think it's why most of us serve in the National Guard."
Since their arrival the Airmen supporting the ACLF have been instrumental in the movement of 440 Department of Defense personnel and 712 short tons of military cargo as well as thousands of tons of cargo arriving via contract air carriers.
In addition to servicing aircraft from every U.S. service branch, they tended to other government entities and commercial companies such as the U.S. Border Patrol, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Postal Service, Civil Air Patrol, Swift Air, IFE Cargo and multiple private security companies.
According to Lt. Col. Kurt Amundson, 133rd Airlift Control Flight commander, the Airmen selected to support the ALCF are often chosen for their experience level and dedication. When asked how the Airman deployed to St. Thomas had performed thus far his answer was immediate.
"Nothing short of absolutely phenomenal" Amundson said.
Meanwhile, Hurricane Maria was upgraded Monday to a Category 3 storm. According to weather authorities, such storms' winds range from 111 mph to 129 mph.
Current hurricane warnings have been issued for several islands, including the British and U.S. Virgin Islands.
As a result, the National Guard announced:
- It will temporarily reposition non-essential personnel who are supporting operations on the U.S. Virgin Islands out of the path of Hurricane Maria. Non-essential personnel are defined as those who will not be needed immediately in the aftermath of the storm's passing.National Guard helicopters on the Virgin Islands will be moved to Coast Guard hangars on Puerto Rico designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane.
- About 3/4ths of the Guard members supporting the U.S. Virgin Islands are considered essential and will stay in place. The remainder will temporarily reposition off the U.S. Virgin Islands and return after Maria passes.
- Additional forces, equipment and supplies beyond what is already there will proceed to the U.S. Virgin Islands after Maria passes.
- Essential Guard forces that remain on the U.S. Virgin Islands will ride out the storm in facilities designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane.