TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
An E-3 Sentry aircraft from the 552nd Air Control Wing’s 960th Airborne Air Control Squadron launched out of Tinker Air Force Base Saturday morning in support of Hurricane Florence relief efforts. The aircraft, with a crew of 19, will be on station for an extended period flying off the coast of North Carolina.
According to Maj. Zeb Birdwell, Mission Crew Commander, 960th AACS, the crew will provide support to U. S. Northern Command with hurricane issues. “We will be working with the Air Defense Sector to identify aircraft,” said Birdwell. “We are also prepared to assist in any other hurricane related issues such as humanitarian relief, search and rescue, working with federal agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, state and local law enforcement and first responders,” Birdwell said.
This type of mission is a bit different than the combat missions AWACS crews normally fly. “We get to help Middle America and everyone is usually pretty energetic to go on these missions,” said Birdwell.
While none of the crew on this mission have family or friends in the affected areas, there are a few squadron members who do. “I was stationed at Shaw AFB in Sumter, S. C.,” said Birdwell, “and I have lots of friends and co-workers I keep in contact with. I know this will be affecting them.”
Plans call for one E-3 to fly each day. “This is a wing effort,” said Birdwell. “The missions will be rotated among the flying squadrons to support for as long as needed.”
The 552 ACW is part of a massive Department of Defense effort to support Hurricane Florence relief efforts.
The National Guard has approximately 4,000 soldiers and airmen already on-duty, which is expected to significantly increase in the coming days. More than 10 states are mobilizing critical support from their National Guard forces through an Emergency Management Assistance Compact to the anticipated impacted areas.
USNORTHCOM has helicopters and fixed wing aircraft from all services prepositioned to respond to Hurricane Florence if called upon. The National Guard has about 40 rotary wing aircraft available for search and rescue and are prepared to assist local first responders with general aviation support.
Approximately 20 Air Force helicopters from Davis Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona; Moody Air Force Base, Georgia; and Patrick Air Force Base, Florida are ready to respond for search and rescue operations.
More than 100 Army helicopters from Fort Drum, New York; Fort Bliss, Texas; and Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia, are on standby for search and rescue, emergency aeromedical evacuation, and utility duties such as commodity and personnel transport.
The ships USS Kearsarge and USS Arlington, along with embarked elements of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit and the Expeditionary Strike Group 2 command element have been deployed. The ships are positioned to chase the storm and provide Defense Support of Civil Authorities from the sea, should support be requested. The ships have an embarked Fleet Surgical Team, four MH-53 Sea Dragons, six MH-60 Sea Hawks, and three ship-to-shore landing craft utilities. The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, embarked aboard Kearsarge and Arlington, includes approximately 800 Marines, six MV-22 Ospreys, three CH-53 Super Stallion and three UH-1Y Super Huey helicopters, as well as a host of ground vehicles, generators and other expeditionary equipment.
Approximately 240 High-Water Vehicles from Fort Stewart, Georgia; Fort Drum, New York; and Fort Campbell, Kentucky are available for ground search and rescue, commodities distribution, citizen transportation, and patient movements.
The U.S. Transportation Command has three C-17 Globemaster III aircraft ready to respond within three hours, if requested.
USNORTHCOM provided Maxwell Air Force Base as an Incident Support Base to support FEMA with the forward distribution of supplies/equipment to the affected areas.
The Defense Logistics Agency has established expeditionary distribution centers at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia and Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, with prepositioned stocks of Meals Ready to Eat, bottled water, gasoline and propane, and industrial generator sets.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has deployed an additional 67 personnel to include Temporary Emergency Power Planning and Response Teams, Subject Matter Experts, Team Leaders and Assistant Team Leaders to support hurricane preparation and response.
USACE has also pre-positioned 105 generators, with an additional 15 enroute, to provide temporary emergency power support.