Texas Air National Guardsman Recognized for Helping Texans Evacuate
By Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
American Forces Press Service
ELLINGTON FIELD, Texas, Sept. 26, 2005 A Texas Air National Guardsman was awarded the Army Commendation Medal Sept. 25 for helping thousands of Texans flee Hurricane Rita as the storm churned off the Texas coast.
Army Maj. Gen. Charles G. Rodriguez (left) speaks after pinning an Army Commendation Medal on Air Force Master Sgt. Lynn Bailey. Photo by Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Army Maj. Gen. Charles G. Rodriguez, adjutant general of the Texas National Guard, presented the award to Air Force Master Sgt. Lynn Bailey, superintendent of the 147th Fighter Wing's fuels shop.
"He's my hero," Rodriguez said, after pinning the award on the airman. "He worked with the Army to get it done."
As Houstonians fled the city prior to the storm's Sept. 24 arrival, the Texas Department of Transportation contacted the Texas National Guard and requested diesel fuel for 30 buses. Bailey was on duty and responded with no real plan in place. He departed Ellington Field, near Houston, with 1,200 gallons of fuel bound for the buses, which had run out of fuel and were stranded.
"They were trying to coordinate evacuation buses," Bailey said. "It was kind of a desperate call."
With a police escort, Bailey arrived at Sam Houston Race Park, where he refueled the buses. Those buses later carried thousands of Houstonians fleeing Rita's wrath.
"You're talking nearly 10,000 people that were able to be transported out of harm's way," Rodriguez said.
When Bailey returned to Ellington Field, his unit notified him that another request for fuel had been received. This time, Bailey needed to drive to Beaumont and refuel 100 stranded buses. He was told that the Army National Guard had dispatched two 5,000-gallon fuel trucks to Beaumont, but they were unable to dispense the fuel.
"They realized the nozzle was too big to go into the receptacle," Bailey said. "I went into my parts bin -- ... I built this contraption -- ... to come up with a nozzle that eventually worked."
Bailey and fellow Air National Guardsman Staff Sgt. Vic Taylor, a refueling mechanic, built a nozzle from old shop parts that could be used by Army trucks and that would fit civilian vehicles. Army fuel personnel attached the airmen's solution to their trucks.
Bailey refueled all of the vehicles in two hours. Both missions kept him awake for more than 26 hours. By the time they completed the Department of Transportation's mission, Bailey and others from the Texas National Guard had refueled 260 buses leaving the Houston, Beaumont and Galveston areas with 25,000 gallons of fuel.
"We never had any practice refueling civilian vehicles," Rodriguez said. "But one of our great NCOs drove out there, and he improvised. He had the foresight to jury rig this thing."
Texas Gov. Rick Perry later dispatched the Texas National Guard to refuel privately owned vehicles, which were strewn over interstates and highways in southeastern Texas. Evacuees caught in traffic jams more than 50 miles long had run out of gas.
"We had lots of cars on the road in the exodus," Rodriguez said. "There were some people stopping the exit flow because they had run out of gas."
In preparation for the return this week of millions of Texans to the southeastern part of the state, Gov. Rick Perry asked fuel terminal owners and operators to begin refueling service stations as quickly as possible so evacuees could return home once their areas were declared safe.
"As more than 2.5 million evacuees from Hurricane Rita prepare to head back home, we need to ensure there are adequate fuel supplies along the routes," Perry said in a special request to fuel terminal operators.
Officials at the 147th Fighter Wing are ready, they say, for more requests for fuel should they receive them.