September 06, 2017

106th Rescue Wings Home

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Some 546 survivors rescued, many from rooftops and some from the murky floodwaters, scores of victims suffering chemical burns as gasoline and oil mixed with the torrent in Texas. A one-month-old infant and eight additional family members hoisted through the air to safety. Two elderly people – a caregiver and dementia patient - saved because one pararescueman saw a tissue waving outside a window. Stories of heroism abound.

Almost immediately after Hurricane Harvey struck, Governor Andrew Cuomo deployed some 120 Air Guard personnel on to assist Texas National Guard response forces providing rescue and evacuation of flood victims.

Based out of the 106th Rescue Wing at Gabreski airport in Westhampton, the pararescue personnel began operations on August 28 with rescue teams deployed in the Houston and Katy, Texas, areas.

Aircrews and pararescue personnel flew dozens of sorties during the course of their mission throughout the week, with maintenance crews supporting some 30 or more flying hours for the aircraft each day.

Interviewed by CNN on August 30, members of the 106th "Dad Squad," Staff Sergeant Ryan Dush and Senior Airman John Kosequat are young fathers themselves. They told the story of rescuing the infant, bringing it up to the chopper in a papoose, and discovering an entire extended family in danger. Lowered down to the scene, said Kosequat, "We expected to pick up one, two people. I'd swim across the road, which is basically a river and all of a sudden I see a family of nine sitting on a stairwell." Dush spoke of the rewards in "helping people in their greatest moment of need."

Captain Michael O'Hagan noted that after Hurricane Katrina, the 106th conducted 162 saves. "This dwarfs any numbers we contended with in Katrina," he said.

The rescuers used two different platforms for missions: a Pave Hawk helicopter with hoist capabilities and Zodiac boats paired with three additional helicopters.

"The amount of devastation was just unbelievable," O'Hagan reported. For some victims, the rescue over the weekend was the first time they left their tenuous shelter and the first time they could actually see the scope of the destruction of their neighborhood. "It was very shocking, very traumatic to them," he said.

"These guys are living a renegade life as they're down here literally working sunup to sundown and beyond and then finding an abandoned house to just crash and sleep on the floor to get some shut-eye and then right back at it the next day," O'Hagan told FiOS news last week. Team members in the boats passed over completely submerged cars, and saw alligators in the water.

Most of all, O'Hagan told CNN, "We're just floored by the response of every day citizens. Neighbor helping neighbor, stranger helping stranger."

"We are grateful for the heroism and hard work of the New York Air National Guard, as their efforts have already saved 546 people from the rising waters in Texas," Governor Cuomo said upon the rescuers' return Saturday. "I join all New Yorkers in congratulating these tremendous Citizen Airmen who served professionally and bravely to put their unit slogan into reality, 'that others may live,' and welcome them back home to their families."

The New York Air National Guard rescue team included three HH-60 Pave Hawk rescue helicopters, two HC-130s and several boats and watercraft. On Saturday the HC-130 aircraft was set to fly back from Texas, while the HH-60 helicopters were loaded and flown back to New York by C-17 aircraft from the New York Air National Guard's 105th Airlift Wing, based in Newburgh, Orange County.

"I am proud to join the governor and all New Yorkers in welcoming home our Airmen who spent this week showing Texas and the nation that the value of our hard training and dedicated personnel pays off at home just as much as the warfight overseas," said Maj. Gen. Anthony German, the Adjutant General for the New York National Guard. "These Airmen showcased the value of our National Guard as always ready, and always there."

 The 106th Rescue Wing supports the Air Force's personnel recovery mission. The wing is manned by more than 1000 military and civilian personnel and also performs civil search and rescue missions as well as assisting state disaster relief and other state emergencies as directed by the governor.

The wing's most recent rescue mission prior to Hurricane Harvey was the launch of pararescue personnel in the Atlantic Ocean to save two badly burned commercial sailors on board the 625-foot long bulk cargo carrier Tamar near the Azores on April 28, 2017.

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