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Ahead of the storm; Citizen Airmen on standby to support hurricane evacuation missions

Members of the 445th Airlift Wing and 920th Logistics Readiness Squadron, load equipment onto a C-17 Globemaster III before delivering the cargo and members of the 920th Rescue Wing to Robins AFB, Georgia, Sept. 13, 2018. The 920th is based out of Patrick Air Force Base, Florida

Members of the 445th Airlift Wing and 920th Logistics Readiness Squadron, load equipment onto a C-17 Globemaster III before delivering the cargo and members of the 920th Rescue Wing to Robins AFB, Georgia, Sept. 13, 2018. The 920th is based out of Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. The personnel are assigned to assist with the hurricane relief efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Patrick O’Reilly)

The 445th Airlift Wing moved five utility trucks and 26 personnel from the Southern California Edison utility company from March Air Reserve Base, Calif., to Stewart Air National Guard Base, Newburgh, N.Y., Nov. 2 in support of the humanitarian relief efforts to restore power to the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Anthony Springer)

The 445th Airlift Wing moved five utility trucks and 26 personnel from the Southern California Edison utility company from March Air Reserve Base, Calif., to Stewart Air National Guard Base, Newburgh, N.Y., Nov. 2 in support of the humanitarian relief efforts to restore power to the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Anthony Springer)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio --

Each hurricane season, a crew of 445th Airlift Wing Airmen stands ready to fly at a moment’s notice. With often as little as 24-hour notice, they’ll depart Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to assist in the evacuation of personnel and equipment before the storm makes landfall.

As the trajectory of each storm changes, the details of the individual mission do as well.

“Standby status means that a call might come any time of day or night,” said Maj. Karen Gharst, commander, 445th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “Even after the initial call, the departure time or arrival location of the mission could still change, sometimes even on the same day.”

The nature of hurricane evacuation missions demands a great deal of flexibility, but without the willing crews, valuable assets would sit in the path of serious storms.

“Consider, for example, an Air Force base with a fighter wing,” said Lt. Col. Eric Florschuetz, chief of current operations, 445th Operations Support Squadron. “They have a lot of people and equipment to evacuate, but they don’t have the aircraft necessary for transporting cargo.”

That’s where the C-17 Globemaster III comes into play. The 445th Airlift Wing has nine, and during hurricane season, one remains readily available, on standby status, to fly in support of hurricane evacuation missions across the Air Force. 

“It’s our responsibility to make sure there is a jet ready to go at a moment’s notice,” said Chief Master Sgt. Scott Bunch, chief enlisted manager, 445th AMXS.

In some cases, aircraft, personnel and other military assets are sheltered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, an ideal evacuation site due to its inland location. Other times, the 445th just assists in transporting equipment from one location to another.

“Last year, the taxiways here were lined with aircraft from other installations,” Florschuetz recalled.

The first hurricane evacuation mission of the 2020 season for the 445th departed the week prior to the August unit training assembly, in anticipation of Hurricane Isaias’ projected landfall along the Atlantic coast.

“We sent a crew to Patrick Air Force Base in Florida to pick up helicopters and move them to Moody Air Force Base, Georgia,” Bunch said.

In addition to the flight crew, comprised of members from the 89th Airlift Squadron, a crew chief from the 445th AMXS also flies on the mission to address any maintenance issues with the aircraft that could potentially arise.

“Accomplishing these time-compressed missions is truly a collaborative effort between maintenance and operations,” added Florschuetz. “Neither squadron can do it without the other. We have each other’s cellphone numbers and are in constant, close contact as these missions are developing in the days leading up to a hurricane.”

After the storm passes, the 445th is on standby, once again, to return the cargo and personnel. In instances where a coastal base sustained severe storm damage, the crew may fly additional missions to bring relief supplies along with heavy equipment to support cleanup efforts. 

“One of the most gratifying parts of being in the 445th is supporting missions like these where we are directly impacting American lives,” Gharst said. “It’s a privileges to work closely with our ops peers to carry out such an important and vital mission.”