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Florida Airmen poised and ready for action before Hurricane Irma

Lt. Col. Elizabeth Evans, 53rd Brigade Engineer Battalion Commander, speaks to the 202nd REDHORSE team as they stand by for Hurricane Irma to pass, Sept. 10, 2017.

Lt. Col. Elizabeth Evans, 53rd Brigade Engineer Battalion Commander, speaks to the 202nd REDHORSE team as they stand by for Hurricane Irma to pass, Sept. 10, 2017. Their mission is to clear roads and airfields that are essential for emergency personnel to begin relief missions. The 202nd will combine with the 53rd Brigade Engineer Battalion, Florida National Guard, to accomplish these missions.

Florida Airmen poised and ready for action before Hurricane Irma

Response vehicles are staged on the morning of the storms arrival at the bed down location where Airmen and Soldiers will wait to be cleared to respond to Hurricane Irma, Florida Sept. 10, 2017. The RED HORSE is a mobile civil engineering unit that will use heavy equipment to clear major roadways, airports, and parking lots as well as generators and a reverse osmosis water purification system to provide electricity and clean water to emergency personnel or civilians if needed. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Carlynne DeVine/Released)

Sebring, Fla. (Sept. 10, 2017) -- Lt. Col. Theresa Travis, operations officer for the 202nd, said the plan is to position the REDHORSE Airmen before Hurricane Irma hits so they are poised and ready for action. 

“Once the storm passes, we give a battle damage assessment,” said Travis. 

Travis said after a storm, especially one of this magnitude, there is widespread damage and debris that close roadways and airports. The 202nd is called up for the most catastrophic jobs after a disaster. It’s impossible to know what they’ll find when they come out of shelter. 

“Bottom line, there’s a lot of chaos built into all these plans,” said Travis. "The storm changes or different details change along the way. It’s a fluid situation." 

Although the community looks to these first responders to be fearless during these times of uncertainty, they are human too. 

“I’m a little nervous; this is my first real big hurricane that I’ve been through,” said Senior Airman Steven Lumpkins, structures journeyman for the 202nd. “I’m really looking forward to it - to go out there and give a hand, make sure everything is safe and sound, and put everything back to normalcy.” 

There is a deep sense of pride in wearing the uniform, especially in moments of complete chaos. Travis explained that in addition to their official professions, service members represent something larger during times like these. 

“We’re out there being ambassadors,” said Travis. “When the local population sees people in uniform…just seeing us creates an ambiance of calm and hopefully collected positive responses.” 

The 202nd shows up with multiple teams, such as airfield recovery, road clearance and line all, ready to sprint into action at a moment’s notice. 

Currently, the target is Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, said Chief Master Sgt. Donald Pettyjohn, operations chief for the 202nd. The main objective is route clearing, and then runway clearing. This is the main objective to reopen the airport as fast as possible to bring in more equipment, supplies and support for the southernmost areas of the state. 

Pettyjohn emphasized this by leaving his team with one final though before departing. 

“People, that’s what we’re built for,” Pettyjohn said. “This is why we’re here. We’re built for hurricanes."