MIDDLETOWN, Pa. - "We never have to worry about finding a great parking space. We're usually the first ones here in the morning and the last ones to leave at night."
That's how Lt. Col. Keith Littlewood, 193rd Special Operations Logistics Readiness Squadron commander, describes his unit's work schedule over the past few months. The 193rd SOLRS and other 193rd Special Operations Wing personnel have been working around the clock since late August to provide air transport, troops, equipment and supplies in support of hurricane relief efforts.
The operational tempo for these Air National Guard members skyrocketed after areas in the southern portion of the United States, as well as the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, were pummeled with severe storms and flooding recently, leaving many thousands of people in need of urgent help.
Because of a robust set of capabilities, the 193rd SOW quickly became the go-to resource used by the Pennsylvania National Guard when answering the call to provide support.
In one of the early relief missions, the wing's EC-130J aircraft was used to transport personnel and communications equipment from the 271st Combat Communications Squadron and the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron to Kelly Field, Texas. The call for help came after Houston received nearly 52 inches of rain in a 4-day period, flooding about a third of the city and displacing many thousands of people.
"(The 271st CBCS) deployed its Joint Incident Site Communications Capability, effectively standing up the first operational communications on site in the aftermath. We were able to feed local emergency management agencies with real-time, live video and information, which provided real-time damage assessment and lifesaving capabilities," said retired Senior Master Sgt. Brian Mitchell, former JISCC team lead.
That mission was just the beginning.
The 193rd SOLRS went to work planning, preparing all cargo and vehicles, and executing the transport of all Pennsylvania National Guard personnel and equipment departing and returning to Middletown from relief support areas.
"In three days, we supplied nearly 34,000 gallons of fuel, moved 156 passengers, and loaded nearly 160 short tons of equipment on eight aircraft headed to the Houston area," said Master Sgt. Paul Wagaman, a logistics planner with the 193rd SOLRS.
On the heels of the flooding in Houston came the call for help in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The 193rd SOW answered again.
Logistics personnel coordinated the move of four Humvees, four trailers and an entire Army National Guard medical detachment from Allentown, Pennsylvania, on three C-130s bound for the Virgin Islands.
They also coordinated transport of maintenance personnel, equipment and a large crane supporting two Pennsylvania Army National Guard CH-47 Chinook helicopters from Middletown to Puerto Rico.
And the work continues.
Troops from the wing's 201st REDHORSE (Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer) squadron along with their Disaster Relief Bed-down Set (DRBS), which contains enough equipment and supplies to establish a small tent city – totaling nine flatbeds that will ship separately on a barge – just departed for the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico to provide shelter and civil engineer support to the thousands of military personnel supporting relief efforts.
Today, a team of maintenance and logistics Airmen from the wing will coordinate transport out of Johnstown two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, support equipment and personnel on a C-17 mission to Puerto Rico. Aircraft maintenance personnel from the wing are currently serving in Savannah, Georgia, as well at a combat readiness hub that has been converted to a hub for hurricane relief support operations.
"We are trained and experienced to fill roles that are not part of typical contingency operations," said Littlewood. "We've consistently executed no-fail missions, and that's why we have been tasked non-stop since Labor Day."
He added that a lot of Army units had never moved their equipment using air transport before, a method that has become increasingly vital.
"This will be the way things will get done in the future," he said.