By Staff Sgt. Aaron J. Jenne, 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 07, 2017
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- Team Dover supported sustained relief efforts throughout August, September and October, 2017, after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria devastated Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Assigned to Air Mobility Command, the Airmen of Dover AFB are responsible for quickly transporting personnel and equipment anywhere in the world. This “Rapid Global Mobility” includes contingency, sustainment and humanitarian missions. The aircraft and aircrews are ready to respond anywhere in the world in a moment’s notice.
“We’ve got to keep some flexibility in our force to be able to accommodate surge requirements like humanitarian relief,” said Mike Holt, 436th Operations Support Squadron current operations chief. “We don’t fly 100 percent of our aircraft every day because (of) maintenance needs and our aircrews have life needs. When we do our job right, we can support one or two extra contingency operations, and as you’ve seen from the news, one or two extra C-5s means a lot of extra relief supplies.”
Current operations organized 13 presidential support missions and 30 relief missions originating from Dover over this three month period.
“Those are just home-station launches though,” Holt said. “That’s different from what Team Dover supported because once they made their initial run, they went back to a staging area – either MacDill AFB or San Antonio – and they flew multiple missions out of there.”
To date, Dover Airmen and aircraft have flown 86 hurricane relief sorties, delivered 262.4 short tons of cargo and transported 161 passengers in support of the three hurricanes. Both the installation’s C-5M Super Galaxies and C-17 Globemaster IIIs were used in the relief efforts, and both the active duty 436th Airlift Wing and the reserve partner 512th AW contributed to the overall support.
Air Mobility Command completed 484 missions including 1,418 sorties during the three months of humanitarian support. Aircrews on 206 aircraft flew more than 4,000 hours to deliver 13,753 short tons of cargo and 7,934 passengers.
Tech. Sgt. Daniel Slay, 436th OSS C-17 training manager, flew a mission to deliver Federal Emergency Management Agency assets to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, about two months ago.
“The destruction was very apparent – not only the physical damage, but there were people at the terminal trying to get out of this basically war-torn area that was wrecked by the hurricane – it was very disheartening to see,” Slay said. “Knowing that we were there as part of a huge support effort, joining with civilian agencies and the contingency response group, really stood out in my mind.”
Although the areas affected by the hurricanes were devastated, Team Dover was instrumental in providing aid, Slay said.
“I think we’ve done an amazing job here at Team Dover supporting not only St. Thomas, but Puerto Rico and hurricane relief efforts in Houston,” Slay said. “I think we put our stamp of excellence on the hurricane relief efforts, proving yet again Team Dover provides premier airlift within AMC and the Air Force.”
Another Airman who supported the hurricane support efforts first-hand was Tech. Sgt. Ronnie Vance, 736th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron C-17 airplane general NCO in charge.
Vance recently returned from a 23-day temporary assignment in Puerto Rico along with three other Airmen assigned to the Wing.
An eight-member team traveled to Puerto Rico Oct. 4. There, they met up with five Airmen from Little Rock AFB, Arkansas, to provide ground support to American military aircraft en route providing aid.
“We acted as ramp coordinators,” Vance explained. “We planned where we were going to park the jets, coordinated ground operations like refueling, transporting ground equipment and transportation for crews and assisted with offloading relief supplies. We worked as many as four aircraft at a time and were steadily busy 24-hours a day for 16 straight days.”
When they arrived, 95 percent of the island was without power, so they slept in tents. Over a few days and a couple moves, they finally ended up in a hotel that had power and running water, but much of the territory was still in bad shape.
“You could just see the devastation. We were working on an apron that was closed off due to damage. The airport couldn’t use it, so they gave it to us to use. A lot of the roads were clear of major debris, but they were still littered from the storm.”
Slay had a similar experience in St. Thomas.
“You have to see to believe the amount of destruction,” Slay said. “It really gives you appreciation for how quickly life can go sideways. Simply seeing the news reports really doesn’t do it any justice.”
For the aircrews to be able to provide humanitarian relief support, the mission requires a team effort.
“A lot of people say, ‘Dover flies airplanes,’ but there’s so much that goes into that,” Holt said. “The face of the Air Force is that flight suit and that airplane, but the support structure that gets that thing airborne is immense, and everybody has a role in there somewhere.”
In fact, Holt explained preparations for a typical flight start well before the engines spin up. For a C-5, maintenance crews start their pre-flight inspections about eight hours earlier, and for C-17s, the process typically starts about five hours in advance. Airmen from the aerial port, fleet services and fuels all play an important role in preparing the aircraft for flight.
“It takes hours to generate one of these airplanes; it’s not like we can just go out and hit a button,” Holt said. “It’s a base-wide effort to move one of these things. When you multiply that out several times a day across both airframes, it really becomes a balancing act.
“This has been a unique year,” Holt said. “It’s been a very trying summer anyway, and then you have that many catastrophic events back to back to back. Tensions run high. People are tired. You start wearing down, but you see the end zone and you remember what you’re driving toward. You pause, catch your breath and move forward again.
“We’re a smaller force than we’ve been in a long time. It’s more taxing on the people, more taxing on the aircraft because we’re turning them constantly. We are moving this iron all the time. We’ve got a lot of commitments right now. We’ve been at war for 16 plus years, and it takes a toll, but we’re always ready to go out and support one another when the call comes.”