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Hurricane relief a joint mission

JBLM service members team up to provide storm relief for thousands of East Coast residents affected by Sandy

Published: 02:00PM November 8th, 2012
Hurricane relief a joint mission

Staff Sgt. Sean Tobin

Airman 1st Class Patrick Russ, 8th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, marshals a truck out of a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft Nov. 5 in support of Hurricane Sandy relief efforts at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.

After airlifting more than 20 electrical utility vehicles to the East Coast Saturday to aid in Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, McChord Field Airmen were back at it again Sunday, transporting much-needed relief back east.

Only this time, instead of utility vehicles, this cargo belonged to the Army’s 227th Preventative Medicine Medical Detachment from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Tasked with testing the safety of drinking water, air, food and other resources in the areas hit by the storm, the small preventative medicine team deployed from JBLM to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., on a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, operated by the 62nd Airlift Wing.

“Whenever there is a natural disaster of this scale, there is also a breakdown in basic sanitation in the area,” said Army Maj. Jason Faulkenerry, 227th PMMD commander. “Working alongside the Food and Drug Administration, we will help to ensure the safety of residents affected by the storm as well as those helping with the cleanup efforts.”

Along with the passengers, onboard the aircraft were enough vehicles and equipment for the team to be mobile and self-sustained in the area for up to a month.

For the C-17 crew transporting the equipment and passengers, this mission was their third trip back and forth across the country, transporting crews and cargo to the area in just five days.

“Emotionally and physically it can be draining,” said 1st Lt. Daniel Siemen, 8th Airlift Squadron pilot. “But knowing that the people and equipment absolutely have to get where they’re going, you have to press on. You just have to make sure you are well rested.”

When taking into consideration the gravity of the missions being flown, it’s easy to look past the discomfort, he said.

“Being a part of this is awesome,” Siemen said. “Obviously, the situation back east is not ideal, but it is definitely great to be able to help the people in need.”

Before the mission’s departure, a four-hour maintenance delay meant the crew had a decision to make as to whether they were going to postpone the mission or continue with it. After a certain number of hours on alert status, it’s up to the crew’s discretion as to whether to continue.

“We talked about it as a crew and decided that we were all well rested and could safely push forward with the mission,” said Senior Airman Steven Varner, 8th AS loadmaster. “We are helping people who are in need and they’re in our own backyard. We really needed to get these guys out there so they could get to work.”

And that’s just what they did. After a five-hour flight to New Jersey and once on the ground at McGuire Field, crews quickly unloaded the aircraft of its cargo and passengers and the crew was back in the air just an hour and 40 minutes later — heading home to start the process all over again, if needed.

McChord Field airmen will continue to remain on alert, waiting to answer the call and jump into action whenever and wherever it is needed.

“We press forward because of the gravity of the situation on the East Coast dictates we do,” said Capt. Matt Battle, 8th AS pilot. “We’re happy to provide this assistance, knowing it’s helping to ease the discomfort of many of our neighbors back east.”