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NEWS | Oct. 23, 2018

New York Guard personnel, helicopters assist after Michael

By Eric Durr New York National Guard

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Four New York Army National Guard helicopters and 25 Soldiers constituted the New York National Guard's contribution to the Hurricane Michael recovery efforts after the Category 4 hurricane crashed into the Florida panhandle on Oct. 10, 2018.

Eleven Soldiers and two CH-47 Chinooks assigned to Company B, 3rd Battalion, 126th Aviation deployed from the Rochester Flight Facility on Oct. 11 for Tallahassee. The Chinooks arrived on Oct.12 and plugged into an aviation task force built around Florida's 1st Battalion, 111th Aviation.

Fourteen additional Soldiers and two UH-60s from the 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation deployed to Florida on October 12 and arrived October 13. One of the UH-60s deployed from the Latham flight facility, while the other came from Ronkonkoma on Long Island.

As the storm approached Florida, the National Guard Bureau called on New York to mobilize a team from the 106th Rescue Wing to provide search and rescue if necessary. The wing had 75 Airmen ready to go with one CH-130 search and rescue aircraft, one HH-60 Pave Hawk rescue helicopter and two rescue boats and crews.

A team of 11 personnel deployed to Gulfport on Oct. 10 as an advance while the other Airmen remained at Gabreski Air National Guard Base.

After the hurricane came ashore, their deployment was canceled because there was no need for additional search and rescue assets in the area.

The CH-47 crews began conducting missions after arriving in Tallahassee, according to Maj. Eric Fritz, the officer in charge.

The initial effort was inserting first response search and rescue teams to areas inaccessible by road to help look for people in need.

On Oct. 12 the New Yorkers delivered a 12-person search and rescue team and all-terrain vehicles to a location in Florida's Wakulla County. After the team conducted its rescue mission, the New York CH-47s picked them up and returned them to base.

The next day, Oct. 13, the CH-47 team delivered another search and rescue team to Alligator Point, a barrier island off Apalachicola Bay, Fritz said. The helicopter landed on the beach to deliver the team because there were no other suitable landing zones.

The two helicopters also delivered supplies to Mexico Beach and Apalachicola Airport. 

By October 14 roads were reopened, so there were no new mission requests for the CH-47s, Fritz said. The two heavy lift CH-47s transported 31,240 pounds of cargo during their brief support missions.

The UH-60s Black Hawks were used for a variety of transport missions while based at Tallahassee airport. When not on missions, the Soldiers bedded down in a hangar on site.

On Oct. 15 one of the New York UH-60s joined two Florida Army National Guard helicopters in transporting Florida Gov. Rick Scott and his party on a survey mission during the visit of President Donald Trump to the hurricane zone.

The UH-60 team also provided transport support to Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Brock Long, moved other personnel and transported radios needed by response personnel.

Along with Army aviation assets the New York National Guard also deployed five Airmen assigned to the Eastern Air Defense Sector's 224th Air Defense Group to Florida to assist in air traffic control. The Airmen were assigned to support the 601st Air Operations Center in managing military air traffic in the region.

As roads continued to reopen, there were fewer air missions for the New York helicopters. The CH-47s departed the region on Oct. 15 and arrived back at home station on Oct. 17. The UH-60s left a day later and closed on their home station locations by Oct. 18.

All of the New York National Guard aircrews performed well, Fritz said. "The Soldiers were like a well-oiled machine, executing every mission flawlessly and adapting to an ever changing situation," he said.