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Florida Reserve Airmen fly Texas relief missions

  • Published
  • By Maj. Cathleen Snow
  • 920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs

Within the first few hours of arriving at College Station, Texas from Cocoa Beach, Florida, where a contingent of 95 Air Force Reservists from the 920th Rescue Wing joined forces with several other groups of military rescue assets, they were airborne and exercising their combat rescue training in real-world scenarios over parts in and around Houston underwater.

The Joint environment here is working out really well," said Chief Master Sgt. Shane Smith, 920th 1st Sergeant for the operation. He said there's a good cross flow of communication among the Navy, Army and Air Force active duty, Reserve and Guard.

"We're operating our air assets at a combined operations center so we have round-the-clock coverage," said Smith. "It's like being deployed to Iraq," he said, but under the guise of the 334th Air Expeditionary Group for the Texas disaster relief missions in support of Air Force Northern's FEMA response.

With three Air Force HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters and two HC-130N's aerial refuelers, and the best-trained professional rescue experts in the world, the 920th RQW has the right assets to make a difference.

A Pave Hawk team consists of a highly-skilled crew of four, joined up with rescue specialists: pararescuemen, combat rescue officers or survival specialists (SERE), or a combination thereof, with a grand total of 6-7 filling up the back of the lethal looking combat-search-and-rescue Hawk, normally armed and used as air ambulances in combat to fight their way in if necessary.

The wing's flying gas station, the HC-130N Kings, are also acting as command and control. They not only give gas, but they give orders taken from Col. LoForti, the 920th's Texas Task force leader. He dispatches rescues to the fixed-wing aircraft, which in turn dispatches those orders to the three Hawk teams.

In this peacetime scenario, the pararescuemen came armed with trauma medicine skills and the ability to hoist into and out of some of the most desolate places in the world to save those who may have sustained a battle injury, such as a bullet wounds. In Houston there have been minor casualties along the way that the PJs are patching up as they weave their way into areas via a long cable to people who've been stranded by the rising floodwaters. 

Despite the hydro scene below, the rescue teams are well-equipped to go where flat-bottom boats cannot, and the rescue specialists have just returned from Swiftwater refresher training with freshly honed technical rope rescue skills in all types of water scenarios in preparation for their upcoming overseas deployment.

So far the people of Texas have benefited from these Airmen skilled in combat rescue who have rescued more than 200 and counting, along with their pets.

LoForti said in an interview with an Orlando TV station earlier, that he's humbled and honored to be here helping these resilient communities of Texans.