By 2nd Lt. Chris Nelson
Fifteen Airmen from the Arkansas Air National Guard’s 189th Airlift Wing Rapid Augmentation Team Charlie deployed Feb. 9 to help motorists in emergency situations on Central Arkansas interstates.
RAT Charlie 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 team assisted local authorities by patrolling the highways and went into action helping 23 people and checking on 62 total people and more than 100 vehicles. Three teams of two members each worked around the clock from 10 a.m. Feb. 9 until 1:30 p.m. Friday, ensuring that motorist along I-40, I-430, and I-630 were safe and had necessary provisions.
The team provided safe operating distances and lookouts for oncoming traffic, assisted with calling of medical or emergency personnel, delivered food, water, blankets and small amounts of gasoline to prevent cold exposure issues for those in stranded or stopped vehicles.
The RAT officer in charge commented on the team’s deep commitment and capabilities.
“The outstanding endeavor of the men and women of Rapid Augmentation Team Charlie began long before the snow storm. We have been preparing and training to respond for situations such as this,” said Maj. Mark Hart, officer in charge.
The RATs receive extensive training to include two hours of refresher training once they are notified and before they deploy.
Select Charlie team members who had volunteered as Humvee drivers for initial response were contacted on the evening of Feb. 8 for anticipation of the forecasted storm. They were called to action and at 6 a.m. everyone arrived on base eager to do whatever was necessary.
“The attitude of all team members was magnificent,” said Major Hart. “It is an honor to work alongside such professionals and it’s also a privilege to give back to the community who supports us in so many ways.”
Traditionally, 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.
“This is the second opportunity I have had in being a part of an emergency response and they are both the highlights of my career,” said Major Hart. “Other missions cannot compare to the teamwork, dedication and passion associated with disaster response.”
The origin of the RAT team concepts roots evolved from a 189th AW Guardsman’s experience of being called to state active duty under similar circumstances and seeing room for improvement.
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.
RAT members recently deployed to support relief efforts in East End, Ark., for tornadoes that hit the town.