ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands -- A Team Dover C-17 Globemaster III conducted a humanitarian relief mission to hurricane-ravaged St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Sept. 24, 2017.
"When our nation calls for Rapid Global Mobility, Team Dover is ready to deliver excellence,” said Col. Ethan Griffin, 436th Airlift Wing commander. “Our Airmen, in both mission support and operations, take great pride in their jobs, as evidenced by Sunday's successful aid flight to St. Thomas. As Dover crews extend America's helping hand, our thoughts are with those affected by the disasters.”
The Team Dover C-17 did not fly directly to St. Thomas. It first made a stop at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia. This is where the crew linked up with Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel and their equipment. The Dover tail was tasked to transport a FEMA Mobile Emergency Response Support unit’s command and control vehicle, and a land mobile radio tower and its support pickup truck to St. Thomas. This MERS unit involved in the mission is based out of Maynard, Massachusetts.
On the ground at Dobbins ARB, Kevin Canfield, FEMA Maynard MERS coordinator, oversaw the redeployment of MERS assets to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, both riling in the aftermath of two crippling storms.
According to Canfield, the unit was in place on St. Thomas during the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, but had to evacuate when Hurricane Maria approached the island. They are now returning.
“We have two aircraft going to St. Thomas, one going to San Juan, [Puerto Rico], and one going to St. Croix,” he said. “We will provide a communications package for their first responders and urban search and rescue teams.”
MERS will provide mobile telecommunications, life support, logistics, operational support and power generation during presidentially declared emergencies and disasters required for the on-site management of disaster response activities.
Also on the ground at Dobbins, a contingent of Airmen from the 439th Contingency Response Flight from Westover ARB, Massachusetts, is in place to support Dobbin’s airfield operations, due to the increase in traffic.
“We are a small team that runs command and control and ramp coordination,” said Tech. Sgt. Tom Rowland, 439th CRF contingency response team chief. “Basically our mission is to set up an air base where there is no air base. For this mission, however, we are more-or-less augmenting. We are here to grease the wheels.”
For Dover’s C-17 mission to transport FEMA personnel and equipment, Rowland explained that he is there to help things ramp up at Dobbins and help FEMA get their folks out the door.
With help from the 80th Aerial Port Squadron, based at Dobbins, the C-17 aircrew and FEMA personnel were able to successfully load the jet.
“From a loadmaster perspective, everything about this load was complicated,” said Airman 1st Class Logan Smith, 3rd AS loadmaster. “We had only six inches of play between the side wall, the trailer, the pickup truck and the other sidewall. Then there was the huge communications truck; it’s just one of those that just barely fits in the plane. It’s super heavy and really tall.”
The loaded C-17 departed Dobbins and flew to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, landing at Cyril E. King International Airport. Upon landing, the aircraft was quickly unloaded by aerial port Airmen from both the Arizona and Minnesota Air National Guards. With the delivery of the FEMA personnel and equipment, the C-17 returned home to Dover AFB.
Capt. Dan Davis, 3rd AS pilot and aircraft commander, had only praise for his crew and the mission overall.
“Everything worked out pretty well and everything was successful,” he said. “We got everything dropped off like we were supposed to.”
Although everything went as planned, Davis elaborated on the exceptional experience.
“It was great flying into the Virgin Islands and seeing all the support folks on the ground there to help out,” he said. “Flying to the islands was definitely a unique experience, especially with the degraded radar and tower capabilities they had.”