September 28, 2017 (by MSgt. David Miller) - Airmen from the 317th Airlift Wing have been supporting Hurricane Irma relief efforts since it began its destructive path through the Caribbean. The storm made direct hits on Barbuda, St. Barthélemy, St. Martin, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands, and raked the United States Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico with hurricane-force winds and torrential rain.
Airmen from the 317th AW have been supporting Hurricane Irma relief efforts since its destructive path through the Caribbean beginning September 6, 2017 standing front of C-130J 08-5683. [USAF photo by MSgt. David Miller]
The Air Force brings unique capabilities to bear in disaster responses. However, all the efforts are in support of a lead federal agency working closely with officials. Without shelter, water, food and electricity residents feeling the effects of Hurricane Irma were in various levels of need.
Joint Task Force-Leeward Islands, composed of elements from Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force - Southern Command, Joint Task Force - Bravo and elements of other Southern Command components, have provided humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in support of the island of St. Martin. The U.S. Agency for International Development Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance requested Department of Defense support for relief efforts after the island’s infrastructure sustained heavy damage from Hurricane Irma.
Water production and purifying supplies were loaded and flown by the 39th Airlift Squadron to St. Martin, where they are being used to help survivors of Hurricane Irma.
Additionally, U.S. Marines supporting JTF-LI were transported to provide humanitarian aid in support of USAID/OFDA.
The crew consisted of one pilot, one co-pilot and two loadmasters from the 39th AS along with two flying crew chiefs from the 317th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
“To get called to support Hurricane Irma relief is an honor because we are able to do what we’ve been trained to do and in a circumstance like this we can help those in need,” said Capt. Greg King, 39th AS C-130J Hercules aircraft commander and group tactician.
The top priority of the DoD, working together to support authorities, is protecting the lives and safety of those in affected areas.
“This is my first humanitarian mission, and watching the loadmasters getting everything loaded and knowing we are helping people is amazing,” said Staff Sgt. Theophilus Gordon, 317th AMXS C-130 flying crew chief. “I have never seen any type of destruction like this so it’s amazing to be able to do this.”
A total force team of active duty, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve Command Airmen are working side-by-side with federal, state, local, and international mission partners to ease suffering and assist in the nation’s and international community’s recovery from Hurricane Irma.
The 317th Airlift Wing has assets continuously deployed around the globe and is able to launch from Dyess when the order comes down showing the high level of training and readiness of all members.
“Seeing what the island went through and putting yourself in others shoes makes you proud that the U.S. military is here to help all of those in need and highlights how we all come together,” said Gordon.