Food, Water a Priority for Some Texas Counties
By Master Sgt. Dave Larsen, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
CONROE, Texas, Sept. 26, 2005 Unlike the early stages of the relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina, getting people to safety hasn't been the top priority for 1st Cavalry Division aviation troops conducting disaster-relief operations in the wake of Hurricane Rita. Most Texans left their Gulf Coast homes a few days before the storm hit.
Army Staff Sgt. Xavier Mayne, a crew chief with Company B, 2nd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, gives a "thumbs up" signal to a forklift operator loading a pallet of water into Mayne's CH-47 helicopter at Ellington Field, in Houston, Sept. 25. More than 150 1st Cavalry Division aviation troops are supporting hurricane-relief efforts in southeastern Texas. Photo by Master Sgt. Dave Larsen, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"We've been focusing our efforts initially on reconnaissance and assessment," Army Col. Dan Shanahan, commander of 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, said. Shanahan is also the aviation task force commander responsible for all reserve- and active-component helicopters assisting in the relief effort as part of Joint Task Force Rita.
The joint task force has 12 Chinook helicopters here flying in logistics and supply missions. Four more Chinooks were due to arrive from Utah today.
Shanahan's aviators have already begun making supply runs to southeastern Texas counties hit the hardest by Hurricane Rita. Aircraft have been departing their forward-based airfield in Conroe, Texas, to get supplies at Ellington Field, in Houston. From there, they've been taking off for small towns along the Louisiana border to provide emergency food and water supplies.
The town of Jasper, Texas, was one of their stops Sept. 25. This town of 9,000 suffered through two hours of winds gusting up to 120 miles an hour, their chief of police said. "We had six hours of winds up to 90 miles an hour," Chief Roy Todd Hunter said.
Hunter said his town ended up with nearly 2,000 evacuees as traffic jams coming from the coastal city's knotted the Texas highways. "A lot of them just ran out of gas," he said. "We had to put them up here during the storm."
When a 1st Cavalry Division CH-47 Chinook helicopter landed at the tiny airfield in Jasper, Hunter was elated. He said the pallets of food and water were the first support his town had seen.
Even with this first delivery, Hunter said his town has many more needs in the coming days. "We need fuel," he said. "We need generators, and we need thousands of meals a day until the power comes back on.
"Folks here are getting a little nervous," he added. "He even had some looting going on (Sept. 24). We've got a handle on that, but we need to take care of these people."
Aviation reconnaissance missions have been extremely helpful in determining which communities need help first. "We get a real bird's-eye view," Army Lt. Col. Michael Mahony, operations officer for 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, said. "You get an entirely different perspective (on the damage done by a hurricane) from the air."
Mahony said his unit will continue to fly scout missions, but that supply missions are the top priority for now.
Back in Jasper, the aircrew worked with local police to get the pallets unloaded. They delivered more than 10,000 pounds of food and water in one trip. With every pallet safely on the ground, a smiling forklift operator, Jasper policeman Craig Martindale, seemed pleased with the assistance and the teamwork.
He had one parting request, though. "Hey! Next time bring a 'fast rope' so we can play," he shouted to the crew as they prepared to depart back to Conroe. "Fast roping" is an expeditious method of exiting a helicopter by sliding down a rope. "If you're going to bring a helicopter, we've got to have some fun with it!"
(Army Master Sgt. Dave Larsen is assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division.)