NY Air Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing saves 546 during week-long Hurricane Harvey mission
HOUSTON, TX– Using HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters and four inflatable Zodiac boats, members of the 106th Rescue Wing rescued 546 people, including infants, children and the elderly, and more than two dozen pets, during a week-long deployment to Texas, August 26- Sept. 2.
A total of 124 members of the wing, including helicopter crews, HC-130 crewmen, pararescuemen, Combat Rescue Officers, and maintenance teams took part in the mission.
A video of 106th Rescue Wing personnel rescuing a family that included a month-old baby was shown on television nationally and featured on news websites around the world.
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, praised the Airmen of the 106th for their efforts, on their return from the mission.
“We are grateful for the heroism and hard work of the New York Air National Guard, as their efforts have saved 546 people from the rising waters in Texas,” Cuomo said.
The hard work and training the 106th Rescue Wing does every day, paid off during this deployment, said Major General Anthony German, the Adjutant General.
“These Airmen showcased the value of our National Guard as always ready, always there,” German added.
The mission kicked off on August 25, when Col. Michael Bank received orders to send Airmen and equipment to Fort Hood, Texas.
The 106th deployment was part of the overall National Guard response to Hurricane Harvey, which inundated the Texas coast line with flood-producing rains.
The entire Texas National Guard was called up by the governor and Guard elements, along with Active Duty military and Coast Guard units from across the country were sent to Texas.
Traditional Guardsmen, Active Guard and Reserve Airmen and technicians were called in to help ready equipment at Gabreski Air National Guard Base.
Within 24-hours the members of the 106th had packed two C-17s, from the 105th Airlift Wing, which flew in from Stewart Air National Guard Base, with three HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, four Zodiac boats, a truck and equipment necessary to carry out the missions.
An HC-130 search and rescue aircraft, which was utilized as a command-and-control platform, has the ability to refuel helicopters in flight, and can transport specialized rescue equipment was also dispatched.
The HC-130 was extremely useful because refueling was not available on the ground because of the flooding so the helicopters needed to be topped off in the air.
Two days into the mission a second HC-130 and 15 more Airmen were dispatched.
Folding three Pave Hawk helicopters and loading them onto a C-17 is no easy feat, said Senior Airman Kenneth J. Kiefer, a helicopter crew chief with the 106th Maintenance Group. It takes two to three hours just to fold the Pave Hawk helicopters, and two to three hours to load them into the aircraft, he explained.
The first flights lifted off on the afternoon of August 26 and were on the ground at Fort Hood preparing for missions the next day.
The C-17s from Stewart also flew equipment and personnel from other states into Texas, before returning the 106th Airmen and equipment to Gabreski on Sept. 2.
The members of the 106th Maintenance Group worked long days and late nights under conditions that ranged from swift winds and rain to blue skies under a hot sun. It was tough but they proved that they were up for the task, said Lt. Col. Robert Siebelts, the 106th Maintenance Squadron Commander.
“Our maintainers unloaded, unfolded our HH-60s in minimal time and kept both the HC-130s and HH-60s flying throughout the duration of the rescue,” Siebelts said. “They all stepped up and did an outstanding job.”
Flight crews and pararescue teams were kept busy getting people to safety from flooded areas using boats and helicopters.
During the rescue that made national news, Senior Airman John J. Kosequat and Staff Sgt. Ryan R. Dush, both members of the 103rd Rescue Squadron, who are both fathers to young children, rescued a one month old infant from a flooded home, along with eight other family members.
Having a baby of his own at home made him realize how much was riding on him doing this job correctly, Dush recalled.
Dush secured the infant safely to his body using a babybjorn style harness. Then he had to make sure there were no pinch points or constraints that would injure the baby during the 60-foot hoist to a hovering helicopter.
“It was really emotional,” Dush said. “Just knowing you don’t want anything bad to happen to this small child.”
During another rescue, in which a family of five were being helped, all crewmen were focused on one side of the Pave Hawk, when Master Sgt. Joseph Napolitano, spotted a towel and a pair of legs hanging out of a house window on his side of the aircraft.
“Nobody else saw it,” said Napolitano. “But I was pretty adamant about it.”
Because of Napolitano’s alertness the crew saved another two people. An elderly disabled man and his caretaker.
Zodiac Boat crews from the 106th, operating in the greater Houston area, went door to door, block by block, in medium to large scale evacuations.
The boat teams spent their nights in the field, sleeping in warehouses, fire departments, police stations and elsewhere as opportunities allowed. At best, they were able to get a cot, team members said.
“We wanted to have a minimal footprint on local resources while getting out the most for the people that needed the help,” said Maj. Sal Sferrazza, a Combat Rescue Officer.
“These are people’s lives. We wanted to be that lasting impact on the ground and apply our abilities,” he explained.
Although the pararescuemen are the ones that drop from helicopters, it’s important to remember that it takes a crew made up of pilots, special missions aviators, as well as pararescuemen, for the mission to be successful, said Major Glynn Weir, one of the Combat Rescue Officers.
“Pilots and special mission aviators are vital to the mission,” Weir said. “We would never get to the spot and we could never take those patients to the hospital on a boat.”
While C-130s flew over the Houston area controlling the air traffic of helicopters in the area, back at Fort Hood, Texas, members of the 106th Communication Squadron set up a Tactical Operations Center.
Lt. Col. Geoffrey Petyak, the 106th Operations Group commander in charge of the Hurricane Harvey relief effort, ran the Rescue Coordination Center at Fort Hood.
The Rescue Coordination Center received missions, or taskings, from Joint Operation Centers and Petyak coordinated the New York rescue forces that were in Texas in response to Hurricane Harvey, explained Lt. Col. Thomas Keany, the 106th Deputy Operations Group Commander.
“We were just happy to be down here for them, doing anything we can,” Kearny said.
“I’m really proud of everyone,” said Petyak. “We are here to help Texas, and these guys worked extremely hard to save as many lives as possible.”