Scott becomes hub for C-17, AE relief efforts after Hurricane Irma tears through Fla., Caribbean islands

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. --Scott Air Force Base became a safe-haven for 12 Charleston, S.C.,-based C-17s and then turned into a hub for staging both air supply and aeromedical evacuation missions in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

Team Scott had quickly ramped up to support more than 250 maintenance and aircrew members, along with 50 evacuees and their pets from Key West as the storm neared Sept. 8 and 9. Support from Scott included arranging for lodging, transportation, fuel for aircraft, providing food and water, and loading supplies for their forward-deployed areas of operations.

Support personnel quickly set up a staging center for future operations and worked around the clock as they monitored Irma’s path and waited for taskings from Northern Command. These taskings will come under the direction of the Department of Defense, which is working in concert with FEMA and the states or nations affected by the hurricane.

Managing the airlift portions of this effort falls under the direction of the 618th Air Operations Center, which on an average day coordinates about 500 airlift and air refueling missions. This unit belongs to Air Mobility Command, which is the air component to the air-sea-land transport oversight of U.S. Transportation Command, all of which are located at Scott.

For instance, the 618th AOC coordinated the effort for a Charleston-based C-17, along with a Dover AFB, Del., C-17, to fly 400 doctors to Orlando to pre-position when it became apparent that Irma would track further west. In addition, two C-17s that were housed on Scott’s ramp took off in the early morning hours Sept. 10 to pick up generators, trucks and other supplies from West Virginia to deliver it to badly beaten Puerto Rico.

Throughout the next few days aircraft were sent to other locations in the U.S. to load trucks, forklifts, emergency equipment and a medical supplies. Air and medical crews have been working their way to Homestead ARB, Fla., Key West and St. Thomas areas of operation as FEMA directs.

Responding to natural disasters on such a large scale involves thousands of people and a variety of methods to achieve the best results. Aircraft like the C-17 can land and operate in austere places, but must still wait to respond until winds are within acceptable limits. USTC provides the means for ships, trains or trucks to reach areas impacted by disasters, and in all cases it usually requires a combination of these efforts.

The officer leading the coordination efforts for the C-17 and the aircrew crews here is Lt. Col. Francisco Flores, whose mother was also directly in Irma’s path in Puerto Rico, however she was able to evacuate in time and is safely in the states elsewhere.

For many like him, they leave behind their families as they provide safe harbor for America’s national assets. Now that their families are making their way back to Charleston safely, he and the crews will stay at Scott AFB until they can re-stage their operations fully at their home station.

“We evacuated here at the same time our families were also being asked to evacuate and that can make it especially challenging,” he said. “However, we are honored to perform these missions and ready to support however we are needed. Knowing that we are bringing assistance to our fellow Americans and to those most affected by Hurricane Irma is something we all take pride in.”

In addition to coming fresh off taskings to support Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, Scott’s aeromedical crews are being teamed up with Contingency Response Forces from California, whose job it is to quickly open airfields and establish air mobility operations at their forward-deployed locations. Plans call for them to be at Homestead AFB, Fla., and into Key West as the airfields are deemed sufficient to receive aircraft.

Col. Russel Frantz, the 375th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron commander, explained that Scott’s AE crews and Critical Care Transport Teams work in concert to provide “care in the air” for patients as they are transported to safer or higher level of care areas. They are normally configured to provide care for wounded servicemembers from the front lines of battle, however, their skills are in great need during domestic crisis responses, such as with natural disasters.

“In addition to moving patients around the globe, Scott Air Force Base currently has 120 ‘total force’ personnel from nine units postured to provide medical support those in need,” Frantz said. “Of interest, we currently have three Rapid Response Aeromedical Patient Staging, or RRAPS, teams ready to launch. These teams were custom designed by AMC staff in just a few days to meet disaster response requirements. RRAPS teams provide a light and lean capability to treat and prepare ambulatory, non-ambulatory and critical care patients for flight. Also included in the capability is the ability to do the air field survey with a Contingency Response Element to enable air field operations at the airport.”

The AE teams will most likely hop on the C-17s staged here which will be tasked for support missions, but can also configure on any of the AMC inventory aircraft. The goal is to get there quick, and airlift is the best option when time is of the essence.

Meanwhile support personnel at Team Scott continue their beehive of activity bringing fuel to thirsty jets, loading gear, feeding the masses and helping to process and track the requirements levied on them by higher headquarters.

For instance, a Navy C-40 flew out several of NAS Key West security forces personnel Sept. 12 who had previously evacuated to Scott AFB, and a Scott C-40 aircrew picked up members of the Civil Air Patrol in Florida and took them the San Juan, Puerto Rico, who began assisting with photo documentation and damage assessments. Members of the 126th Air National Guard continue to standby if their KC-135s are needed for support, as well as the 375th Air Mobility Wing’s C-21 assets.

Col. John Howard, 375th Air Mobility Wing commander, expressed his thanks “Our teams have worked tirelessly over the weekend and will continue to do so in typical ‘Showcase’ manner. Everyone pitched in—Guard, Reserves, active duty and civilian whether at the wing level or at higher headquarters here. This base is where the coordination flows 24/7, so it’s been great to see our ramps full of the aircraft that are normally launched down south. It’s been great to have them here and to be partners in this effort, and we recognize their sacrifice as they are away from their own families who are back home still dealing with weather-related issues from Irma. Our job here, though, could not get done right without everyone’s personal investment, and for that I am grateful.”