RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
Tech. Sgt. Leonard Cole was deployed to Korea when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Central Gulf Coast in 2005, displacing his family and in-laws, some of whom never returned to their homes.
The situation frustrated the sergeant who felt helpless so far away from home.
So when Hurricane Ike was bearing down on the Texas and Louisiana coastline Sept. 12, Sergeant Cole was glad to be among the countless and selfless members of the Randolph community who stepped up to conduct 24-hour support operations.
The 13-year career logistician assigned to the 12th Logistics Readiness Division here helped in-process the 318-member search and rescue force of the 331st Air Expeditionary Group that staged its operations from Randolph over the weekend.
"I couldn't help my family during Katrina, so now it was important to me to be able to help," the NCO in charge of Installation Deployment Readiness said. "It's my responsibility as a military member and a God-fearing man to help my fellow man."
His help as a member of the Randolph team allowed the 331st AEG to focus on the unit's primary mission of conducting HH-60 rescue helicopter and HC-130 tanker operations in the Houston and Galveston areas devastated by Ike. Over the course of the weekend, the unit logged 27 saves and helped many other people by providing them with food and water.
"We at the 331st Air Expeditionary Group are proud to be a part of the rescue efforts in the Galveston and Houston area," Col. Steve Kirkpatrick, 331st AEG commander, said Sunday. "The coordination with Texas Task Force 1 has been tremendous and the support Randolph Air Force Base has provided us has been nothing short of phenomenal."
"Because of that support, our training and the monumental efforts by everyone involved, we're able to maximize our resources in assisting civil authorities to help save lives and prevent human suffering."
The 12th Flying Training Wing support of the search and rescue mission came together in short order. On Sept. 10, wing leaders were making plans to brace Randolph for high winds and heavy rains Hurricane Ike was expected to bring over the weekend had it stayed on its path at the time. Base officials were also preparing to host any response forces that would stage out of Randolph in the aftermath of the storm, if called upon to do so.
When the hurricane turned to the northeast Sept. 11, the weather threat to Randolph was reduced to just moderate winds and the potential for some rain. While that eased the burden for severe weather preparedness, word came that people and aircraft from the 331st AEG would begin arriving the next day.
The base was also tasked to provide a staging area at Seguin Auxiliary Field for hundreds of Federal Emergency Management Agency trucks and trailers.
The wing response was swift and thorough, according to the commander.
"Each person on the team contributed their professional expertise, acted with a sense of urgency and displayed great spirit in making a herculean task manageable," said Col. Jacqueline Van Ovost, 12th Flying Training Wing commander. "We were able to quickly execute our reception plan and provide for all the needs of the search and rescue forces deployed here."
Activating a group-level flying operation in about two days was no small accomplishment.
The Randolph Emergency Operations Center was the primary link between the base and the 331st AEG. Rich Parkinson, EOC director and 12th Mission Support Group deputy director for installation support, said the process worked very well in getting the space, accommodations, transportation and everything else the search and rescue mission needed to be successful despite the short amount of time the team had to prepare.
"We kept the focus on our primary objective, which was to take care of the 331st folks so they could do their jobs," Mr. Parkinson said. "We tailored the staff to the functions we needed and ensured we kept in constant communication with the Rescue Operations Center."
That communication link was vital, not only in face-to-face situations, but also through e-mail and the Internet, which fell on the shoulders of the 12th Communications Squadron to deliver.
"We didn't know what their requirements would be until they arrived," said Kevin Bailey, chief of the 12th CS Unit Control Center. "Wherever they went, we provided 'comm' in those locations."
One of the 12th CS's challenges was standing up the Rescue Operations Center in the training classroom at the EOC, which involved dropping phone and network lines, setting up accounts for the deployed 331st AEG members and getting them connectivity back to their home stations.
"Base exercises help prepare us for this type of activity," Mr. Bailey said. "We are a customer service organization and strive all the time to meet requests in a timely manner."
No matter what support function was involved, Sergeant Cole said everybody did what they had to do and then some.
"We were surrounded by capable people, and Team Randolph came together to get the job done," he said. "We had knowledgeable people in key positions making the right decisions."