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Okla. Army National Guard water rescue team deploys to Florence

By Sgt. Brian Schroeder | Oklahoma National Guard | Sept. 14, 2018

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LEXINGTON, Okla. – Soldiers from the Oklahoma Army National Guard departed Thursday from Muldrow Army Heliport here to provide a specialized skill set for those impacted by Hurricane Florence.

Seven Soldiers from Detachment 1, Charlie Company, 1-169th General Support Aviation Battalion, who trained in Helicopter Search And Rescue Team (HSART) operations, were placed on state active duty orders to assist in the recovery efforts after Hurricane Florence hits the East Coast.

The unit will weather the storm in Knoxville, Tennessee, and wait until called upon by one of the states affected by the storm.

Once in Knoxville, the Oklahoma Army National Guard team of aviators, crew chiefs and an operations sergeant, will fly to and link up with Oklahoma's Task Force 1, which includes a collaboration of Oklahoma City and Tulsa firefighter-paramedics. The unified team of aviators and firefighters regularly train together to conduct swift water rescue using dynamic and static hoists.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 John Jenkins, UH-60 Black Hawk pilot, assigned to Charlie Company 1-169 GSAB, said the training for swift water rescues and hoists with the Task Force 1 has prepared the group to perform the potentially dangerous task of rescuing a person stranded after the hurricane subsides. He said most of all, he and his crew are excited to show a helping hand to citizens outside of Oklahoma.

"We all fall under the same flag, no matter which of the 50 states," Jenkins said. "That's part of putting the uniform on and doing the job. It's not the aspect of position, rank or title. It's about going out there and actually saving someone's life."

The pilots, working with crew chiefs and firefighters, will locate the person in need and hover the helicopter over the stranded individual. The crew chief will then attach the firefighter to the hoist. Once safety checks are complete, the firefighter is lowered down to the stranded individual in a basket, seat or other floating rescue device. The rescue team member will then make contact with the stranded individual, secure the victim to the hoist seat and both are lifted to the cabin of the helicopter.

Depending on the number of remaining seats, Jenkins said the team will continue collecting stranded individuals, drop them at an established drop-off point, or fly the injured to an emergency facility for treatment.

"Individuals who are trapped or stuck and are exceeding the means of a normal boat rescue, they call us to help assist," Jenkins said. "I'm looking forward to going out and taking care of the mission and making a change, not only in someone else's life, but also going out and reaching our hand out to South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, showing that Oklahoma is a helping state. We've always been that way."

The crew's mission also includes operational support on the ground provided by Sgt. Tiffani McBride, aviation operations sergeant, Charlie Company, 1-169 Aviation. McBride's primary role is to relay weather reports to the flight crew, track the number of rescues and the crew's flight hours to report back to her home station.

McBride, a native of Elgin, Oklahoma, previously participated in state active duty missions: 2010 winter storm recovery and the 2013 Moore tornado cleanup efforts. She said this mission is different than what she has done in the past, but she sees it as an opportunity to learn how to work and coordinate with other state and federal agencies.

"The key thing to take forward is just to be flexible," McBride said. "Everything can change in a matter of minutes. You've got to go with the flow, but it's all about helping people. I'm looking forward to it."