Three months of humanitarian support; an unforgettable display of readiness

Col. John Klein, official photo, U.S. Air Force

Col. John Klein, official photo, U.S. Air Force

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. –The month of August in Northern California is when summer begins to wind to a close, the days are long and beautiful, and the 12,000 total force Airmen at Travis Air Force Base, California, are gearing up for an engaging fall season.

Little did we know just how engaging this August would prove to be.

In the late days of the month, I watched Hurricane Harvey form and head straight for the Texas coast. On Aug. 25 and in the five following days, most of the nation could only sit back and watch it unleash havoc; affecting more than 700,000 people, killing more than 80, and causing a span of damage second only to Hurricane Katrina.

Catastrophic times like these, though difficult, are also the times I am most in awe of our Airmen.

In the days leading up to Hurricane Harvey’s devastating landfall, Travis began posturing for a major humanitarian relief effort. If and when we got the call from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist, we would be ready. Maintenance personnel prepared aircraft to be in constant alert status; medical and aircrew teams assembled; mission support personnel prepared essential gear and ensured families were cared for in case those teams left on short notice. Much of the base engaged in 24-hour operations to make sure we were prepared to meet the needs of the 700,000 people who had requested aid.

On Aug. 31, the call came from FEMA for additional support and the base sprang into action. Within 24 hours, one C-17 Globemaster III diverted on its way to Africa to provide presidential support airlift to Texas, and six critical care air transport team members traveled to Arkansas, where they staged with additional aeromedical evacuation teams to care for victims.

Little did we know, this was just the beginning. In the three months that followed, the call came five additional times. With each call, within 24 hours, Team Travis came to help.

In the wake of Hurricane Irma and then Hurricane Maria in September, additional medical and contingency response personnel and equipment flowed to southern Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Our fleet of C-17s and C-5M Super Galaxy aircraft rapidly transported more than 500,000 pounds of water, Meals-Ready-to-Eat, medical supplies and search and rescue teams. Our aerial port, the largest on the West coast, certified and processed the cargo for airlift – at one point processing an entire mobile air traffic control center and later a 45,000 pound generator that provided air fidelity in St. Thomas and Puerto Rico.

After a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck Mexico City Sept. 19, two C-17s delivered more than 220,000 pounds of medical supplies, hygiene items and food and water, as well as a 60-member U.S. Agency for International Development elite disaster team from the Los Angeles County Fire Department Urban Search and Rescue Team.

From a deluge of water in September in the south, closer to home, we saw the tragic effects of our dry summer. During the series of 250 wildfires that burned in Northern California in early October, Travis was designated a federal staging base for FEMA, housing 120 ambulances and more than 200 personnel. At the same time, fire and civil engineer teams assisted local authorities in firefighting and relief efforts across the area.

Finally, when the A.R.A. San Juan Argentine navy submarine went missing in the southern Atlantic Ocean Nov. 15, a C-5M delivered U.S. Navy undersea rescue capabilities to Argentina to assist in the search.

Through each of these disasters, our Airmen willingly sacrificed time with their families, sleep and normal comforts to deliver hope to those who desperately needed it. These missions directly and immediately provided relief and reassurance to our international partners, our fellow Americans, and in some cases, our family members and friends. They hit a nerve in each of us. It could have been any one of us who had just lost our home in a hurricane, or who was separated from our family after an earthquake, or was anxiously wondering if our loved one was okay and alive somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.

We operate on the pinnacle of readiness. I see our Airmen work hard every single day, but to see them come together and put forth the major effort demanded of them to set these missions into action is something I will never forget. When the call came, they were prepared. They knew what they had to do, knew what was at stake, and they came through.

In each of these missions, our Airmen reminded me why we do what we do. We can never lose sight of their fierce resolve to deliver rapid global mobility, to project American power, and to bring hope and relief whenever and wherever needed. They lived out the service they promised they would give to their country. In this season and every day, they make me unwaveringly proud to serve in their ranks.