Thursday, May 6, 2010

TOP STORY > >189th Airlift Wing responds to tornado damage

by 2nd Lt. Chris Nelson
189th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Nearly 40 Airmen from the Arkansas Air National Guard’s 189th Airlift Wing Rapid Augmentation Team deployed May 1 to East End in Saline County to help residents recover from tornado damage.

RAT Bravo is one of three 50-person teams comprised of drill-status Guardsmen. It’s a volunteer force the wing developed to more efficiently respond to state natural disasters.

“We’re doing all of this while we’re also deploying Airmen to support the overseas war effort, while our day-to-day C-130 training mission continues uninterrupted,” said Col. Jim Summers, 189th Airlift Wing commander. “This is a prime example of how flexible our Air National Guard is, but it takes the support of those external influencers – employers and a Guardsman’s family – for it to continue to work. I can’t say enough about how employers and families have stepped up to the plate to support their Guardsmen when they’re needed most.”

The RAT commander commented on the team’s deep commitment and capabilities.

“This outstanding effort began [April 30] when we started calling all of the bravo team members around 10 p.m. and everyone arrived in East End ready to go work between 1:30 a.m. and 3:30 a.m.,” said Lt. Col. Phillip D. Moorehouse, 189th Airlift Wing RAT commander.

“These folks are volunteers and they all want to be here,” said Colonel Moorehouse. “It is such a privilege to be a part of a team of professionals that truly place others first.”

The RATs receive extensive training to include the two hours of refresher training once they are notified and before they deploy. The training consists of chainsaw operations, power line safety, self aid and buddy care, traffic control and how to perform safety and welfare checks.

“The First Electric Co-op in Jacksonville has been heavily involved with the RATs by providing a safety line training course that has overall amplified the wing’s safety mindset,” said ColonelTraditionally, the Arkansas Army National Guard has been responsible for deploying first responders for natural disasters. Now the Air National Guard also has the opportunity to help Arkansans in their time of need.

“We’re seeing downed power lines and large trees, 18 to 36 inches in diameter, that have fallen across roads,” said Maj. Scott C. Simms, the officer in charge of the Guardsmen’s operations in Saline County.

“This is what we are trained to do, and it is simply an organized effort of Arkansans helping Arkansans,” said the major.

There was an overwhelming outpouring of community support in East End. Local Cub Scout Troop 801 served hot meals and cold drinks to all. East End Baptist Church provided a place to set up the 189th Airlift Wing Emergency Management Center and also provided sleeping quarters. Even East End community members themselves were there asking how they could help.

The origin of the RAT team concept’s roots evolved from one Guardsman’s experiences of being called to state active duty under similar circumstances and seeing room for improvement. Master Sgt. Charles D. Snelson, NCO in charge of Plans and Integration for the 189th Logistic Readiness Squadron, is credited with the RAT’s concept.

Lt. Col. Dean B. Martin, 189th Airlift Wing plans officer, and 1st Lt. Kenneth O. Simon, 189th Airlift Wing deployment officer, both worked with Sergeant Snelson on the RAT’s development.

“Sergeant Snelson saw, through previous activations for state active duty, a need for a more streamlined system to recall, process and deploy our personnel in an expeditious manner to support the governor and citizens of Arkansas,” said Colonel Martin.

Lieutenant Simon stated, “Master Sgt. Snelson not only came up with the concept, but through his development efforts, we identified paperwork and equipment, prepositioned to expedite the deployment process.”

He also applauded Sergeant Snelson for the team construct and it being an ideal situation for volunteers.

“The team rotation cycle gives commanders and supervisors the ability to know when their members will be available for other duties,” said Lieutenant Simon.

Teams are rotated seasonally, which allows for some members to deal with snow, ice, heat or whatever issues a season may bring. This means that no one person will be out of their duty section for the whole year, said the lieutenant.

RAT team members recently deployed to support relief efforts in northern Arkansas after devastating ice storms hit the region.

“The cornerstone of the 189th Airlift Wing’s success to develop and implement this type of program is teamwork. The way our wing communicates internally and externally was essential in producing an amazing way to efficiently help out your neighbor,” Lieutenant Simon said.

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