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Captain flies into St. Croix blind to deliver food, water

Capt. Whit Gremillion, an aircraft commander with the 21st Airlift Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, California, was part of the crew that provide humanitarian support in response to the Mexico earthquake in September 2017. Gremillion and his crew delivered 67 U.S. Agency for International Development elite disaster team members and five canines, along with equipment and medical supplies. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Candy Knight)

Capt. Whit Gremillion, an aircraft commander with the 21st Airlift Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, California, was part of the crew that provide humanitarian support in response to the Mexico earthquake in September 2017. Gremillion and his crew delivered 67 U.S. Agency for International Development elite disaster team members and five canines, along with equipment and medical supplies. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Candy Knight)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — Capt. Whit Gremillion, 21st Airlift Squadron, received an afternoon call Sept. 19 instructing him and his crew to fly to March Reserve Base, California, an hour away from Travis AFB, California. Aerial porters worked through the night to load 76,000 pounds of cargo onto the C-17.

Once loaded, the Travis crew delivered a United States Agency for International Development elite disaster team from Los Angeles County to Mexico City.  After arriving to Mexico’s capital, the team comprised of doctors, medics, working dogs, firefighters began search and rescue efforts in response to a 7.1 magnitude earthquake that rocked Mexico City Sept. 19.

“Several members of the team have traveled to other countries to conduct search and rescue operations during past disasters including in Haiti, China, Nepal and Chile,” said Gremillion, 21st AS aircraft commander. “They had flown with the Air Force before, and they were familiar with how we operate.”

As Mexico worked through earthquake damage, the United States continued to endure and respond to hurricane after hurricane. It began when Hurricane Harvey hit southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana August 26.  Hurricane Irma wrecked the Florida Keys and Florida coast Sept. 10 followed by Hurricane Maria bringing 155 mph winds to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

Air Mobility Command aircraft were postured to respond at a moment’s notice. Gremillion’s crew was no exception. As they flew back from Mexico to their home station, they received notification that they were redirected to Kelly Field, Texas, staging area for hurricane relief efforts.   

Just two weeks before responding to the earthquake in Mexico, Gremillion and his crew also transport contingency response members back to Travis AFB from Marathon, Florida. As they responded to different natural disasters, they saw varying degrees of destruction.

“The Mexico City airport was a fully operational airport compared to Marathon, Florida, and St. Croix where there was destruction and garbage everywhere,” said Gremillion, a native of Overland Park, Kansas. “We only saw search and rescue and military members.”

Each area had their own challenges. For example, communications were limited in places like St. Croix.

“There was no air traffic control communication until we got two miles from the field,” said Gremillion.  “We were just flying until we got a hold of someone about 10 minutes from the field. We didn’t really know what to expect, but that is nothing we aren’t used to.”