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Over 300 N.Y. Guard Airmen responded to Caribbean hurricanes

By Eric Durr | New York National Guard | Nov. 30, 2017

GABRESKI AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE - More than 300 New York Air National Guard Airmen were kept busy in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria as they flew federal cargo missions, and took part in on the ground response to the storms which hit the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Sept. 6 and Sept. 20.

Maria, which went directly over Puerto Rico, did more damage than Irma, which passed north of the island, but the New York Air Guard went into action almost immediately after Hurricane Irma passed through the Caribbean.

The 106th Rescue Wing, based here at Westhampton Beach, Long Island, only two weeks before had sent 126 Airmen, three HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters and two HC-130 search and rescue aircraft to Texas to assist in post-Hurricane Harvey rescue operations, quickly deployed the same package to Puerto Rico on Sept. 7.

More than half of the 128 Airmen who deployed to Puerto Rico had also been on the Texas mission.

In Texas, the 106th made more than 546 rescues using helicopters and Zodiac boats because of the flooding caused by Harvey. In Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, there was no flooding, so instead of conducting search and rescue missions, the 106th team wound up evacuating American citizens from the Dutch side on the island of St. Maarten.

The St. Maarten mission kicked off when the 106th was asked to extract a diabetic American woman-Teirni Clendenin—who was running out of medication because the power was off.

The wing flew a CH-130 into the tricky St. Maarten airport, flown by a pilot who had landed there in his civilian airline capacity job, and then Capt. Chad Evans and Senior Master Sgt. Tom Pearce walked through the streets of the city, dodging looters and armed gangs to extract Clendening and her husband, according to Maj. Edward Boughal, a 106th Rescue Wing Combat Rescue Officer.

When the plane left, they took out other Americans who had been at the airport seeking a way out.

The crews of the two 106th HC-130s, along with aircrews from the Kentucky Air National Guard and the Puerto Rico Air National Guard, then launched a three-day non-combatant rescue operation, coordinated jointly by the Department of State and Department of Defense. The effort, commanded by the 106th contingent, extracted more than 1,580 Americans from the island; 500 of those Americans were carried out in 106th Rescue Wing aircraft.

The two-week mission demonstrated the flexibility of the 106th Rescue Wing, Boughal said. The wing was originally tasked to conduct search and rescue but was able to seamlessly shift into an evacuation role.

"The hardest part was having to deal with a very dynamic situation on the ground in St. Maarten, as the island was completely devastated and people were desperate," Boughal said.

While the 106th Rescue Wing deployed boots on the ground, the 105th Airlift Wing based in Newburgh, New York, provided C-17 airlift for domestic operations missions, while the 109th Airlift Wing at Scotia, New York, provided additional C-130 airlift support, moving personnel and equipment.

The 105th Airlift Wing also transported four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and 60 Soldiers assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation from Long Island to Puerto Rico for relief missions, and also moved the three HH-60s and many of the 106th Airmen to Puerto Rico as well.

The wing launched 17 missions in support of hurricane response operations from Stewart Air National Guard Base and conducted over 100 sorties in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Defense domestic operations response.

The 105th moved 326 personnel, and transported 54 vehicles and 41 pallets of supplies. This was more than 231 tons of cargo.

Most of that cargo was moved during the period from Sept. 30 to Oct. 6 when 214 tons of cargo-- including both vehicles and pallets--was transported.

This cargo included one of the P23 fire trucks assigned to Stewart Air National Guard Base, which was moved to Puerto Rico for use at the airport there. This was the first time the wing had ever moved that type of equipment.

The 105th also deployed a number of its troops for relief missions.
Seven 105th Airmen deployed with a Joint Incident Site Communications Capability, satellite communications system, to the Virgin Islands to help the Virgin Islands National Guard communicate effectively.

The 105th Base Defense Squadron also deployed 40 personnel to the island of St. Croix to assist in providing security.

The wing also sent seven personnel to Rafael Hernandez Airport in Puerto Rico to work with eight members of the 109th Airlift Wing in conducting aerial port operations there.

While the main focus of the 109th Airlift Wing was on its support National Science Foundation operations in Antarctica, the wing also supported missions in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

The 109th flew troops and equipment to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The wing had 35 air crew on duty flying 37 sorties. Totaling 110 flying hours, in support of FEMA and Department of Defense domestic operations missions.

The 109th moved 208 personnel and 122 tons of cargo flying those missions.

Back in New York, the men and women of the Eastern Air Defense Sector (EADS) also played a role in the hurricane-relief missions being flown in the Caribbean by the Air Force, Air Guard and Air Force Reserve.
Airmen manning EADs Battle Control Center (BCC) "utilized many of the same systems and procedures that we use to coordinate air defense operations to support relief efforts," said Col. Emil Filkorn, EADS commander.

"This enables the BCC to provide immediate, real-time support for airfield and search and rescue operations that took place 1,500 miles from our facility in Rome," he added.

In one case, EADS personnel were able to facilitate communications with Airmen on the ground in Key West, Florida, so they could prepare a runway to receive a C-17 loaded with emergency personnel and rescue equipment.

In another instance, EADS personnel helped coordinate a search and rescue operation in the Florida Keys which involved the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

Contributing: The 105th Airlift Wing, 106th Rescue Wing, 109th Airlift Wing and the Eastern Air Defense Sector