149th Fighter Wing wraps up hurricane response

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Gregory Ripps
  • 149th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
   While residents of the Gulf Coast area devastated by Hurricane Ike began to return to their homes to pick up the pieces, Guardsmen of the 149th Fighter Wing were returning home after their call-up ended.
    The wing members were among the 7,500 members of Texas Military Forces (TXMF) called upon by Gov. Rick Perry to assist civilian authorities in response to the hurricane between Sept. 7 and 27.
    Some 285 members of the wing deployed to the Gulf Coast in response to Ike, and another 70 provided direct support from Lackland, Port San Antonio or Brooks City Base in San Antonio or from Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas. Days before Ike roared ashore on Sept. 13, some of the Guardsmen rushed first to Corpus Christi and then hurriedly switched to Beaumont, to assist with air evacuations, and others sped to Bryan and San Angelo to assist with receiving the evacuees.
    "We had people all over," said Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Tinoco of the 149th Medical Group (MDG).
    The deployed wing members came from a wide variety of specialties from within the wing and its geographically separated units, with the largest representation from the 149th MDG, 204th Security Forces Squadron (SFS), 149th Maintenance Group and149th Communications Squadron. Depending on their skills, they provided medical support, conducted search and rescue operations, assisted with evacuations and shelter management, or helped distributed ice, food and water, working side by side with other military and civilian responders. Members of the 149th MDG and the 204th SFS exemplified their response.
    The 149th Medical Group helped air evacuate about 233 older or "special needs" patients out of Beaumont before the storm hit, said Capt. Harold Hill of the 149th Medical Group. C-130 aircraft from the 136th Airlift Wing, from Fort Worth, performed the medical evacuation flights, transporting 20-30 patients at a time.
    Captain Hill explained that flight medical teams assessed patients for flight, patient movement items (PMI) teams "medically packaged" each individual for flight, air medical evacuation teams maintained the "high acuity" of each patient during the flight, and other PMI teams received the patients at the rear staging areas for transport to other medical facilities.
    The 149th Fighter Wing's medical professionals also set up a Small Portable Expeditionary Aeromedical Rapid Response (SPEARR) equipment package on Galveston Island- a tent with medical supplies. The SPEARR team treated about 60 responders, both military and civilian, for minor injuries including cuts, twists and broken bones, according to Captain Hill.
    Members of the medical group and the 204th SFS joined to evacuate residents of an assisted living center in Galveston. After evacuating 138 people from the building, the Air Guardsmen went through every room to ensure no one was left behind.
    "The highlight was hand-carrying a 400-pound patient on a bed sheet down 11 floors," said Maj. Carl Alvarez, 204th SFS commander.
    The 47 security forces squadron members primarily operated three points of distribution (POD) locations, where they handed out water, food and ice to people impacted by the hurricane. The PODs were located in the communities of Dickenson, Friendswood and Hitchcock.
    "People were very appreciative," said Chief Master Sgt. Rick Pena, of the 149th Maintenance Group, who worked with the 204th SFS. He added that some of the people had to wait in the line of vehicles for 20-30 minutes, but that the Guardsmen kept loading the vehicles as fast as they could, maintaining a positive attitude regardless.
    Based at Fort Bliss, the members of the 204th SFS traveled farther than other Texas National Guardsmen to respond to Hurricane Ike.
    "Squadron members convoyed nearly 1,400 miles in 13 tactical vehicles from El Paso to Houston and back during the Hurricane Gustav response," said Major Alvarez. "A week later, during the Hurricane Ike response, squadron members again convoyed nearly 1,500 miles from El Paso to Galveston Island. ... This is a testament to their ... desire to serve their fellow Texans in their time of need."
    Wing Commander Col. John Nichols, who also commanded the TXMF task force responding to the hurricane, praised all the elements of the consolidated mission.
    "The Texas Military Forces response to Hurricane Ike was a huge effort by all components of the force," said Colonel Nichols. "Each component brought with it dedicated Texans who performed a wide variety of mission sets from evacuation/search and rescue to restoring normalcy of life to our fellow Texas citizens."