Fifty three Airmen from the Arkansas Air National Guard’s 189th Airlift Wing Rapid Augmentation Team Charlie deployed April 26 to Vilonia in Faulkner County to help residents recover from tornado damage.
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 RAT domestic operations chief commented on the team’s deep commitment and capabilities.
“This outstanding effort began [April 25] when we started calling all of the Charlie team members late in the evening and everyone arrived in Vilonia ready to go work around 12:30 a.m.,” said Lt. Col. Dean B. Martin, 189th Airlift Wing RAT domestic operations chief.
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 team deployed with six Humvees, a backhoe, dump truck, two stake bed trucks and several multi-passenger pick-ups. They used six generators, multiple radios, chainsaws and plenty of military muscle to clear debris from the roads.
“Last night, the team provided security and patrolled the roads throughout Vilonia and today the mission has changed to search and rescue, said the RAT chief.”
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.
“We’re going door to door to make sure everyone is ok and accounted for,” said Lt. Col. Martin. “We are all members of this Arkansas community and it is so great to be able to provide help to our fellow neighbors.”
There was an overwhelming outpouring of community support in Vilonia. Centennial Bank, the Red Cross, and the Salvation Army served hot meals and cold drinks to all. The Vilonia Fire Department even provided a place to set up the 189th Airlift Wing Emergency Management Center.
The RAT members were placed into four task forces to more efficiently help the Vilonia residents. They teamed up with members from the Army’s 77th and 39th brigade to provide an experienced joint effort.
The origin of the RAT team concepts roots evolved from one Guardsman’s experiences 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 have deployed to support relief efforts in East End, Ark. for tornadoes that hit the town, northern Ark. after devastating ice storms hit the region, and recently to central Arkansas interstates to help motorists caught in the snow storm.