By Master Sgt. Ben Gonzales
Air Force News Agency
ELLINGTON FIELD, Texas (09/04/2008) - Airmen from rescue helicopter squadrons from across the Air Force came together here to provide personnel recovery support in the event it was needed for Hurricane Gustav that stormed through Louisiana Sept. 1.
Active and Guard rescue squadrons from Alaska, Arizona, California and New York combined forces seamlessly at Ellington Field prepared to provide assistance in the event the hurricane ravaged the Gulf Coast as Hurricane Katrina did in 2005.
Being prepositioned prior to the storm arriving in the area was crucial for a timely response. Airmen were ready to go within hours of notification and began arriving to the Houston-area military facility as early as Aug. 31. The Airmen brought four HC-130 Hercules aircraft and six HH-60 Pave Low providing a search and rescue capability if needed.
Arriving to the airfield close to the Gulf Coast were 197 Airmen from the 563rd Rescue Squadron from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., and dozens of Guardsmen from the 210th Rescue Squadron from Alaska, the 129th Rescue Squadron from California and the 101st Rescue Squadron from New York. Even though the call for help never came from Louisiana state officials, the Airmen gained crucial experience in setting up a rescue operation center.
Members of the 563rd Operations Support Squadron used all of their talents to provide a self-contained unit to respond to any rescue or search call with specialties ranging from pararescuemen, pilots, contracting officers, communications professionals, maintainers and survival, evasion, resistance and evasion. Airmen were ready to go in a moment's notice through coordination with the rescue operation center staff.
"We provide a global response force," said Lt. Col. Denis Doty, the 563rd OSS intelligence director. With the rescue operation center, "we take the burden off the operations squadron and form a team that is light, lean and lethal to respond to any call for search and rescue in the region. We have been working to put this center together and by coming (to Ellington Field) we were able to exercise this concept."
The Airmen were in place for the storm, but a weak Hurricane Gustav prevented severe destruction and did not call for any rescue operations.
"We are the only Defense Department service that trains specifically for rescue," said Lt. Col. Todd Prejean, the 563rd OSS director of operations and commander of helicopter operations during the deployment at Ellington Field. "Coming here was a chance to flex our mobility muscles. We are trying to prove a concept of the rescue operation center, which provides the flexibility and speed we need to get to the fight. In addition, (coming to Ellington Field) was a seamless integration with the Reserve components. Ellington Field members supported us so well and were almost like family to us. They gave us everything from Internet connectivity to vans, and that gives us less to worry about so we can focus on getting the mission done. This was a total team effort."
Guard Airmen joined the hurricane relief effort at Ellington Field under Title 10 and 32 directions to support the governor of Louisiana.
"Title 10 forces and well as Title 32 forces here came together to act in two different capacities to fulfill a myriad of missions for the state of Louisiana," said Lt. Col. Darrin Slaten, the 210th RQS director of operations from Kulis Air National Guard Base in Alaska. "I'd rather be here and not do anything than to not be here when we are needed. It was an honor to be here to be able to help through the emergency management assistance (agreement) with the state of Louisiana. That is why the Guard is here."