Units Prepare to Respond to Rita; Bush to Visit NORTHCOM
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 23, 2005 In preparation for the landfall of Hurricane Rita, the U.S. Air Force and Coast Guard are positioning assets and equipment to aid in relief efforts.
Joint Task Force Rita is now active and is under the command of Army Lt. Gen. Robert Clark, commander of the 5th U.S. Army, U.S. Northern Command officials said. A standing joint force headquarters is established in Austin, Texas.
The Air Force is moving aircraft out of the projected path of Hurricane Rita and skilled teams of professionals into strategic positions ready to respond in the wake of Rita.
The Air Force evacuated 16 F-16s and one C-26 from Ellington Field, in Houston. Six F-16s and the C-26 were evacuated to Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.; five F-16s to Fort Worth, Texas; two F-16s to Atlantic City, N.J.; two F-16s to Tulsa, Okla.; and one F-16 to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
Two C-5 Galaxy aircraft with the 433rd Airlift Wing at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio are poised to assist with the evacuation of areas in Hurricane Rita's path, including Houston and Beaumont, Texas. The 433rd also sent a five-member aeromedical-evacuation command-and-control team to Beaumont to stand ready to operate a medical-evacuation control point from that location. The team initially responded to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
The Air Force has five C-17s, six C-130s, three C-5s and two contingency-response groups on three-hour alert.
"Hurricane Hunters" from the 403rd Airlift Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., will conduct a mission to track the storm early Sept. 24. Also, six helicopters are preparing to deploy to the relief area to provide food, water and medical supplies as needed. Five HH-60s deployed to Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, are on one-hour alert, and pararescuemen are preparing to deploy, officials said.
McChord Air Force Base, Wash., will send its first crew out of the gate in support of Hurricane Rita today.
A crew from the Air Force Reserve's 313th Airlift Squadron was to take off in a C-17 Globemaster III at about 3:30 p.m., heading to Travis Air Force Base, Calif., to pick up 400 patient litters and 800 cargo straps before heading to Beaumont, where the equipment will be pre-positioned for possible use in evacuating nonambulatory patients.
Both the Reserve 446th Airlift Wing and active-duty 62nd Airlift Wing have crews on standby at McChord, ready to leave when the call for assistance comes through command authorities.
The first Air Force U-2 surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft tasked to collect images of the Gulf Coast before Hurricane Rita hits returned to Beale Air Force Base, Calif., at about 4 p.m. Sept. 22.
The unique mission, requested by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, collected imagery of the Gulf Coast region from Lake Charles, La., to Brownsville, Texas, in preparation for Hurricane Rita. Before and after photos allow emergency officials to accurately measure the damage and plan emergency relief and evacuation efforts, officials said.
The 9th Reconnaissance Wing is standing by to obtain, if requested, additional imagery of any devastation that may be caused by Rita.
Twelve aircrews and C-130s at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., were put on alert this morning to support Hurricane Rita relief efforts. Once the order to support is given, aircrews and planes will be in the air in no more than three hours.
Texas National Guard personnel have begun leaving San Antonio to pre-position themselves on the edge of Rita's path, in order to expedite requests for assistance after the hurricane hits.
The 149th Fighter Wing will lead Task Force Seguin, made up of about 400 soldiers and airmen of the Texas National Guard, and will travel in 50 vehicles from various locations within San Antonio to meet up at Easterwood Field outside of College Station tonight to wait out the storm.
Texas Air National Guard airmen from the 221st Combat Communications Squadron from Garland, the 136th Airlift Wing in Fort Worth, and the 204th Security Forces Squadron in El Paso will assist civil authorities with emergency support functions such as rescue, medical, transportation, distribution of supplies, security and road clearing.
Most of the members who make up Task Force Seguin are already experienced in hurricane relief operations, Texas Guard officials said. Texas National Guard members were some of the first responders in New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. More than 250 members from the 149th Fighter Wing and units in Fort Worth, Houston and El Paso evacuated 35,000 residents from the Superdome in New Orleans. Air Guard medical personnel set up a triage system to treat and evacuate flood victims at the New Orleans Convention Center.
Other Texas Guard members distributed food, water and medical supplies and helped civil authorities with debris removal. Gov. Rick Perry called these guardsmen home Sept. 19 when Hurricane Rita began posing a threat to Texas.
The 149th Fighter Wing, which flies F-16 fighter aircraft out of Kelly Field, has been managing ongoing hurricane relief actions while continuing its primary Air Force mission of training F-16 fighter pilots. If necessary, the aircraft will be relocated further west, out of harm's way, officials said. A U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Diego HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter and crew departed today for El Paso, Texas, in preparation to assist with Hurricane Rita operations. The Jayhawk crew will fly to El Paso tonight and is scheduled to work from U.S. Coast Guard Group/Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas, after Rita passes.
President Bush will travel to U.S. Northern Command headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., to observe activities there. He said he would make sure not to get in the way of operations. "Rest assured, I understand that we must not and will not interfere with the important work that will be going forward," he said. NORTHCOM is responsible for the military's roles in homeland defense and civil support.
(Compiled from U.S. Northern Command, Air Force, Coast Guard and National Guard news releases and staff reports.)