Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

TOP STORY >> Base could help after hurricane

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

Even as international relief flights continue to bring food, supplies and equipment to Little Rock Air Force Base every day, a dozen crews and C-130s of the 314th Airlift Wing are standing by to support operations necessitated by Hurricane Rita, according to Lt. Jon Quinlan, the base public information chief.

Quinlan said the planes could participate in air evacuation, moving cargo or people and supplies — typical C-130 missions.

“We have the ability to deploy any time and anywhere to respond quickly to any situation around the world,” said Col. Andy Hamilton, 314th Operations Group commander. “We feel it is important to use this capability in times of emergency.”

Nationwide, about 3,400 members of the 82nd Airborne Division are on standby, according to published reports, as well as many Air Force planes and dozens of helicopters.
As of Friday evening, Hurricane Rita was a Category 3 hurricane and was expected to hit the Texas-Louisiana coastline early today.

“Little Rock Air Force Base and the Air Force have unique capabilities that allow us to support the relief efforts. We stand ready to respond if called upon,” Hamilton said.

Once the order to support is given, aircrews and their planes will be in the air in a matter of hours.
Quinlan said the planes could participate in air evacuation, moving cargo or people and supplies — typical missions of the C-130..

About 60 airmen volunteered to help unload Beaumont, Texas, nursing home patients from two Air Force C-130s that landed at Little Rock’s Adams Field about 1:30 a.m. Friday, Quinlan said.
They assisted Baptist Medical Center staff in offloading critically ill patients. He said he didn’t know how many patients were involved, but that typically each C-130 could carry about 35 patients on litters.
Some of the patients were on oxygen or had IV medications. They were triaged and moved to the hospital, he said.

Many of the patients were fearful and confused, he said.
“We had to learn a lot really quick,” said Tech Sgt. Freddie Andrews, of the 314th Civil Engineering squad. “We were carrying patient litters, hooking up oxygen tanks and basically doing whatever needed to be done. We just tried to comfort them as best we could.”

So far, 37 planes from 25 countries have delivered 1,914 tons of relief aid, according Quinlan, including Meals Ready to Eat from Great Britain. Those MREs are considered suspect because there’s an embargo on beef from Great Britain because of Mad Cow Disease.

The base also has flown missions in support of Hurricane Katrina relief.
It served as a safe haven for specialized C-130s from Hurlbert Field in Florida during Hurricane Katrina and currently houses C-21s formerly assigned to Keesler Field, all but destroyed by that hurricane.
Right now, the base is home to at least 245 airmen and dependents, many from Keesler, but also some soldiers as well.

Some are staying with base families, said Quinlan, and some at separate base house. Others are staying at economy motels.

Little Rock Air Force Base’s family support center has been converted to help evacuee families, with supplies of donated food and toiletries.

“The outpouring of support from the base and community groups is impressive,” Quinlan said. “It looks almost like a grocery store.”