Military Helps Florida Prep For Storms' One-Two Punch
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 12, 2004 Military units are bracing for two major storm systems poised to slam into Florida.
While the Air Force Reserve "Hurricane Hunters" are tracking Tropical Storm Bonnie and Hurricane Charley, the Florida National Guard has mobilized about 200 Army and Air Force Guardsmen to provide support, and the Navy secured or sent its aircraft inland, out of the storms' paths.
Bonnie continues to move steadily toward the Florida Panhandle, where it is expected to make landfall this afternoon. At the same time, Charley is churning in the Gulf of Mexico, expected to cross the Florida Keys later today.
Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Odom, public affairs officer for the 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., said nearly 200 members of the Air Force Reserve's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron began tracking Bonnie for the National Hurricane Center in Miami Aug. 9, and Charley the following day.
Crews are tracking Bonnie from their home base at Keesler, while other crews, forward-based at St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, are tracking Charley, Odom said. Both groups are launching aircraft every six hours for missions that typically last eight to 12 hours, during which six-person crews collect a full range of weather measurements.
Maintainers, who work around the clock keeping the squadron's 1960s-vintage WC- 130 aircraft with their onboard weather instrumentation in the air, are the "unsung heroes" of the effort, Odom said. "They're just awesome, the way they quickly turn around these aircraft," he added.
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signed an executive order Aug. 11 to mobilize the Florida Guard in preparation for the storms. Air Force Lt. Col. Ron Tittle, public affairs officer for the Florida Guard, said full-time and reserve Guard members activated the Joint Emergency Operations Center in St. Augustine and established planning teams for the Guard's major commands in St. Augustine, Tallahassee, Tampa and Orlando.
Today, the Florida Guard mobilized a 50-person transportation team, which is taking up positions in three western Florida locations with its Humvees, 5-ton trucks and other "high-wheeled vehicles" that could be used for evacuation, search and rescue, and potable water and goods distribution, Tittle said.
Tittle said the Guard could contribute up to 8,000 soldiers and airmen to the effort, if needed, to help with local law enforcement, traffic control, transportation, logistical support, communications, engineering and debris removal. About 2,000 Florida Guardsmen already are mobilized in support of Operation Noble Eagle, providing homeland security and participating in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in Southwest Asia. More Guard members are deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Bosnia and Kosovo, Tittle said.
Meanwhile, the Navy ordered more than 60 training aircraft and helicopters from Training Wing 6 at Pensacola Naval Air Station to St. Louis, Atlanta and other locations to avoid potential damage from the storms, according to Chief of Naval Air Training public affairs officer Lt. Rob Lyon, in Corpus Christi, Texas. Lyon said some other aircraft were moved into hangars at Pensacola or dispatched on routine training missions. Among the aircraft involved were T-2 Buckeyes, T-39 Sabreliners, T-1 Jayhawks and T-6 Texan Twos, he said.
Also in the Pensacola region, 23 T-34 Turbomentor aircraft based at Whiting Field, home of Training Wing 5, departed Aug. 11, two days earlier than scheduled, for a routine cross-country mission, according to public affairs officer Paul Nelson. About 300 additional aircraft and helicopters have been secured in hangars at Whiting and nearby Saufley Field, he said.
At Naval Air Station Jacksonville, P-3 Orion aircraft from Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 11 and Patrol Squadron 33 began evacuating today to McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kan., and Buckley Air Force Base in Denver. Officials said no decision has yet been made on evacuating Jacksonville's S-3 Viking jets and Seahawk helicopters.