USAF Answers the Call in Hurricane Maria Relief Efforts

Air commandos deployed from Hurlburt Field, Fla., prepare to take off from the island of Dominica Sept. 23, 2017, after it was devastated by Hurricane Maria. Air Force photo by TSgt. Shawn Nickel.

Units from across the Air Force responded in support of FEMA efforts to bring relief to Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and other Caribbean islands struggling to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria. National Guard Bureau officials reported Wednesday that more than 3,000 National Guard airmen and soldiers are currently assisting with relief efforts in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

On Sept. 23, airmen from the 15th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla., flew through the night to rescue 19 medical students from the island of Dominica after it was hit by Maria.

The same day, 32 airmen from the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Contingency Response Group deployed to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where they established an air cargo hub to distribute relief supplies across the Caribbean.

The 14th Airlift Squadron, from JB Charleston, S.C., arrived in St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, also on Sept. 23, bringing an FAA mobile air traffic control tower, along with an instrument landing system and air traffic controllers. The permanent tower had received damage during the storm, and the mobile tower was necessary to coordinate relief flights in and out of the island. ANG members from Phoenix’s 161st Air Refueling Wing were on the ground in St. Thomas, loading and unloading crucial supplies like food and water.

Dobbins ARB, Ga., has been a crucial launch pad for relief efforts as well. Semi-trucks have flowed into the base carrying emergency supplies, which are then loaded onto C-17s by aerial porters from the 80th Aerial Port Squadron with help from logisticians from the Department of Health and Human Services. The primary payload for aircraft leaving Dobbins are field hospitals, which provide tents, medical equipment, and 35 Disaster Medical Assistance Team members assembled by HHS to provide emergency medical care in areas devastated by Maria.

Airmen from the 165th Air Terminal Operations Center, Savannah ANGB, Ga., were also working 12-hour shifts handling relief cargo headed to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

Check out some of the most striking photos from the service’s efforts, courtesy of the Air Force: