Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Bliss' Combat Aviation Brigade rolling out to help with hurricane relief efforts

Maj. Paul Hanson, the operations officer for the 2nd Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment, stands in front of a specially equipped medical evacuation Black Hawk on Tuesday. Soldiers from the 2-501st will be leading a task force from Fort Bliss that will provide relief from devastating Hurricane Harvey. 

Soldiers and helicopters from Fort Bliss’ Combat Aviation Brigade are joining the relief effort in the wake of devastating Hurricane Harvey.

About 90 soldiers from the Combat Aviation Brigade — primarily from its 2nd Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment — were scheduled to leave Tuesday with some additional elements from the brigade headquarters leaving on Wednesday, Fort Bliss officials said.

The task force will bring up to 25 Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters with it, said Maj. Paul Hanson, the operations officer with the 2-501st.

These soldiers will do their initial staging at Kelly Airfield in San Antonio and then will conduct search-and-rescue and other relief operations, as called upon, in the Gulf Coast area hit hard by the hurricane.

“We are excited to do our mission and excited to be able to provide some relief from some suffering in the Houston area,” said Hanson, from Rapid City, S.D. “It is unfortunate it has happened. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people who have been affected by Hurricane Harvey.”

The 2-501st and the Combat Aviation Brigade headquarters are both part of a larger response force that is tasked with providing quick help after a natural disaster or an attack on the United States. They are expecting to be gone anywhere from two weeks to a month.

The 2-501st returned just a few days ago from doing a training rotation at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., where it supported Fort Bliss’ 2nd Brigade Combat Team.

“It is a quick turn for us to reset our soldiers and reset our aircraft and equipment and go out on a mission like this,” Hanson said. “But we are happy to support and ready to support and provide whatever we can.”

The team was busy loading up about 2,600 pounds of bottled water and 220 boxes of Meals, Ready-To-Eat to sustain themselves in the field and not be a burden on the Gulf Coast when they arrive, Hanson said.

In addition to the 2-501st and elements from the brigade headquarters, the task force will also consist of soldiers from sister units the 3-501st and the 127th Aviation Support Battalion.

Sfc. Brandon Didier, a Black Hawk mechanic with Delta Company, 2-501st, will be among the team going to the Gulf Coast.

“The mood is really high,” said Didier, from Frontenac, Kan. “A lot of soldiers are ready and willing and want to go help our fellow people in Texas.”

The brigade is the latest area group to be deployed to help those impacted by Harvey.

The El Paso City-County Office of Emergency Management, which activated its Emergency Operation Center late Sunday to assist in relief efforts, is working with a slew of area groups to send emergency response crews to east Texas.

Already more than 40 El Paso police, fire and sheriff's personnel, including a diving team, have headed out to Houston. A 25-member Rapid Response Team from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations office in El Paso also left to the area on Monday. 

Several area doctors and nurses have also been dispatched to assist, as have some Red Cross El Paso and Salvation Army volunteers. 

The emergency management office is also working with the Red Cross of El Paso and other agencies to prepare to receive up to 1,500 evacuees, although their arrival has not yet been confirmed, officials said.

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