New Orleans, September 3rd, 2005
I just returned from New Orleans on a hurricane relief mission in the
C-130. Let me just start by saying I was awed. Not in what I saw in destruction
and devastation because I had/have already seen enough of that on TV. What
really hit me hard was the absolute determination and
willingness of all
those involved in the relief effort. I just want to quickly tell you what I was
a part of and what I witnessed as it just really filled me with pride and
reminded me again why we are such an amazing and successful country.
started when I showed up for the flight in Nashville. Instead of the flight
planning I would normally do (the other pilot did it), I wastasked to call all
60 or so of the pilots from the 105th Airlift Squadron (my squadron) and find
out their availability to fly hurricane reliefmissions. Now, don't forget these
are all Air National Guard men and women and most all have full time jobs
outside of flying for the Guard.
Almost without exception, every pilot
offered whatever assistance was needed. No surprise. I then jumped in the
airplane and flew directly to New Orleans Int'l, which was and is only open to
relief efforts. We had on board with us an aero medical evacuation team. They
are a group of
highly trained nurses and med techs that are qualified in
evacuating wounded and sick soldiers from the battlefield and keeping them alive
enroute to a medical facility.
One of the many missions of the C-130 is
basically a flying hospital. We can literally set up and intensive care unit in
the back if needed. So, with our team of aero meds and flight crew on board, we
set course for New Orleans with the rough idea that we would transport injured
and sick people to Elington Field, TX (Houston, TX). From there we would
to Alexandria, LA, Charlotte, and then back to Nashville. Our mission ended up
evacuating one of the VA hospitals' patients as well as several
The weather was not great once we neared New Orleans. We made
it in and were met by an airport SUV that led us to what is normally an airline
passenger gate. The difference was the gates housed medical teams (mainly
military that had just arrived) and scores of sick refugees
(for lack of
better term). We squeezed ourselves into a parking spot perpendicular to a C-141
and next to two C-17's. There were other Air Force planes on the ground as well.
By the time we finally left, five other C-130's and another C-17 had joined
What happened next just really made my heart well with pride. From
every direction and in about 15 to 45 second intervals, helicopter after
helicopter continued to land right next to us. It was a mix of Army Blackhawks,
Coast Guard helicopters as well as Marine and Army. They were joined by what
must have been 15 "Flight for Life" helicopters from
hospitals all around the
Southeast. I saw Miami, Arkansas, and many other names painted on the sides.
This was not normal operations. These pilots were practically landing and taxing
on top of each other. They came in fully loaded with sick personnel. Many right
from the rooftops. One New Orleans Airport fireman took on the duty of aircraft
marshaller and marshaled in choppers left and right. The helos would unload and
then take right back off. It was not uncommon for a helicopter to be on the
ground less than two to three minutes and then blast back off. We were basically
parked in the triage area. These helicopters were
immediately met by ground
personnel who helped the people off the helos and if they couldn't walk, they
put them on a stretcher or just flat carried them.
What makes it so
extraordinary is when I realize that these ground personnel were just the
airport workers, airline employees, cart drivers, fireman, and then the staff of
all the emergency teams. It was amazing. They were not necessarily trained for
the jobs they were/are undertaking. They just stepped up to the plate and did
it. The tower
and ground controllers were coordinating airplanes and
helicopters like they had never imagined in their most terrible nightmares and
were doing a very good job of it.
There were literally so many
helicopters coming in and out of the triage area that I do not understand how
the tower guy could see through them all to control the planes once they landed.
The little baggage trailers and tugs that you normally see zipping around the
airport were being used to move survivors out to the airplanes. They can best be
described as mini ambulances.
The terminals at the airport were triage
and staging areas. The airport vehicles that are usually operated by airport
managers and security were leading airplanes and helicopters to newly created