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Specialized AMC unit eases airlift burden in New Orleans

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LOUIS ARMSTRONG NEW ORLEANS INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, La. (USTCNS) --- Without the quick deployment of a special Air Mobility Command unit, the air evacuation plan at New Orleans' Louis Armstrong International Airport might not unfolded as quickly or as smoothly.

The 818th Contingency Response Group from McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., arrived Aug. 31, a day after Hurricane Katrina demolished the area. They instantly provided relief to the few airport workers and firefighters who, alone, had been coordinating helicopter rescue missions once the hurricane passed.

"When we first got here, the fire department was doing phenomenal work," said Lt. Col. David Wise, 819th Global Support Squadron operation officer. "They were literally sleeping by their trucks, carrying litters and marshalling helicopters."

The 818th CRG quickly assessed the airfield condition and "filled in the holes" in operations that the small group couldn't, said Colonel Wise. The airport was in desperate need of the 818th, which provides airfield operations where little or no infrastructure exists.

Working with other Air Force units, lights were installed on one runway and flood lights lit a section of the apron and concourse area enabling 24-hour operations until airport power was restored.

Soon, hundreds of aircraft, including Army and Coast Guard helicopters, and Air Force and Navy planes, swarmed the airfield at all times of the day.

Evacuees quickly filled the airport and CRG members were constantly unloading relief aid from military and commercial aircraft. It was an unprecedented use of a CRG team, said Colonel Wise.

The CRG leadership is responsible for watching the overall flow of everything associated with airlift. Here, that meant getting to know key individuals of every faucet of the operation.

Colonel Wise said the CRG had to interface with the Department of Defense, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Transportation, the U.S. Border Patrol and the U.S. Forest Service, to name a few.

The CRG watched over the complete evacuation and relief aid process, provided support, and recommended additional people or procedure changes to keep everything moving, said Colonel Wise.

One such example was when CRG leadership saw a need for more medical evacuation teams, said Colonel Wise. He said they quickly made recommendations to the appropriate agency and the 43rd Aeromedical Evacuation team from Pope AFB, N.C., arrived soon after.

Airman 1st Class Stephen Vance, 60th Aerial Port Squadron, Travis AFB, Calif., assisted with off-loading aircraft, but the task was made more time consuming than usual. The military has a system of loading cargo that is different than civilian airliners and without the right equipment, he had to hand carry individual cases of water off each plane. Each plane had 49,000 pounds of water. He helped offload 12 aircraft during one 13-hour shift.

"It's definitely worth the time and effort to help out the evacuees," Airman Vance said. "I'm happy to be here."

The 818th CRG commander understood the difficulties.

"I'm incredibly proud of the perseverance, ingenuity and professionalism of the members of the 818th CRG and those folks of other units that are augmenting the group," said Col. Rich Walberg.

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