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Task Force Iron Eagles Brings Aviation to Hurricane Harvey Relief Efforts

harvey1Houston, TX
August 29, 2017
Story by Capt. Tyson Friar
1st Armored Division Combat Aviation Brigade

Establishing at Kelly Airfield near San Antonio, the CAB brought the 2nd Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment, a general support aviation battalion, with CH-47 Chinook and UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters for transporting supplies and personnel, and HH-60 helicopters capable of providing medical evacuations with medically trained crews and equipped with a hoist and gear ideal for search and rescue operations.
The 3rd Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment also provided over 40 of its Soldiers and additional UH-60 Blackhawks, bolstering the capabilities of the 2-501st AVN.
“We are a nation of helpers,” states Lt. Col. Chris Chung, the commander of the 2-501st AVN, “and this battalion and brigade deployed forward is just a reflection of that.”
Over 90 personnel from the CAB’s 127th Aviation Support Battalion provided the backbone support vital to sustain the helicopters. The 127th ASB’s expert technicians provide maintenance, communications and refueling capabilities, ensuring that each helicopter remains prepared to conduct each assigned mission.
“We are proficient at what we do,” explains Spc. Ryan Brandman, an Avionic and Survivability Equipment Repairer with the 127th ASB and native of Fairview, Ind. “We focus on our mission of maintaining aircraft so that they can focus on their mission of flying out.”
The CAB’s headquarters also arrived not only to facilitate the operations of its internal units, but also to lead one of the Aviation Task Forces for the relief efforts. The 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment of the 11th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade, and the Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron 14 (HM-14) which is a Navy helicopter squadron from Norfolk, Virginia flying the MH-53E Sea Dragon, joined the organic elements of CAB to form Task Force Iron Eagles. The Task Force is led by the CAB commander, Col. Jay Hopkins, Command Sgt. Maj. James Hall, and the Command Chief Warrant Officer, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Steve Donahue.
The CAB was selected to deploy in support of the relief efforts not just because of its capabilities, but also since it’s currently in an on-call status for responding to such emergencies within the continental United States. Not only did the CAB begin moving east in less than 24 hours, but the 2-501st AVN and members of the 127th ASB completed a month-long rotation at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., and proceeded directly to the hurricane response.
“Our ability to transition from one mission to the next when called upon challenged us,” remarks Chung, “but it also demonstrated that we have the ability, leaders, and Soldiers to accomplish it, even at short notice.”
Task Force Iron Eagles transported over 600,000 pounds of blankets, cots, food and water to areas cut off by the flooding. The Blackhawks flew leaders to the devastated regions, allowing them to survey the disaster and better plan recovery efforts. C Company, 2-501st AVN provided recovery and medical assistance.
On September 1st, C Co. responded to a rescue of a man with renal failure requiring emergency care. Cutoff by flooding, emergency responders were unable to assist him. Due to trees in the area, the crew from C Co. lowered a hoist, and the onboard medic preformed care as they rapidly moved him to the hospital, where he made his recovery. Chief Warrant Officer 3 Venancio Hernandez from Puerto Rico and a pilot for this rescue remarked on the unit’s relief effort deployment, “To be able to help even one person is worth the deployment”
The most remarkable event for C Co. came with a call for baby formula. While not appearing to be the high-risk mission it was classified as, the unit assumed the task and departed at 2:00 a.m. The crew later learned that the child hadn’t eaten for a while, and only had an estimated two hours to live. While the delivery to the hospital would have taken local officials three hours, C Co. completed it in a little over ten minutes, saving the child’s life. “It’s humbling to see the disaster and effects of the devastation,” stated Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jonathan Calise of Boynton Beach, Fla. and a pilot on this flight, “but it’s an honor to participate and help out on American soil.”          

This story was originally found here.