TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
In the throes of a hurricane, emerging requirements for military air assets throughout the affected area can create a chaotic web of demand signals with varying levels of priority.
When those demands require the use of U.S. Transportation Command or Air National Guard assets, it is the job of the Air Mobility Division in the 601st Air Operations Center and Director of Mobility Forces Air Forces Northern Command to synchronize and facilitate the requests.
Although U.S. Northern Command provides the direct support to federal agencies during disaster relief, USTRANSCOM and the ANG is responsible for much of the equipment and resources needed to move people and supplies used to accomplish the mission. The 601st AOC Air Mobility Division is able to track those emerging requirements, plan the airlift missions and ensure the units are preparing to act as the requests for mission-critical and life-saving capabilities are validated.
“We are able to help define requirements and expedite requests for mobility support from the field because of the relationship we have built with USTRANSCOM,” said Lt. Col. Steven Kozielecki, AMD deputy chief. “We have a history of working together and they know if we are pushing through a requirement, it will be validated.”
During the Hurricane Harvey and Irma relief efforts, the AMD coordinated upwards of 150 requests a day to support relief operations. Often times the requirements for air mobility change last minute, requiring dynamic adjustment of those sorties and adding to the difficulty of effectively tracking and coordinating the requests.
“Yesterday, 40 of 130 sorties were dynamic requirements,” Kozielecki said. “That means, either some aspect of the mission had to be adjusted or the priority changed as the mission was being planned or executed.”
One such mission came before Hurricane Irma arrived on Florida’s shore.
An aeromedical evacuation mission was tasked to pick up 48 patients from Puerto Rico and fly them to Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. On the way home, one-and-a-half hours into the flight, the AOC’s AMD received a phone call and coordinated for the crew to divert to Key West Naval Air Station, Florida.
There, 44 evacuees and pets were stranded.
The aeromedical evacuation mission was able to pick up the additional passengers and fly all 52 people back to safety in Illinois thanks to the efforts of all involved.
“What our air mobility team has been able to accomplish during both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma disaster relief efforts is nothing short of incredible,” said Col. Dave Smith, AMD chief. “The Mobility machine has been kicked into high gear. Coordination has never been better amongst all the air mobility partners as we have been able to leverage everyone’s lift capability to provide support to those in need.”
“The 601st AOC is comprised primarily of Florida Air National Guardsmen and being able to help our home state in a time of need means a lot to all of us,” he said.
In addition to missions being coordinated for hurricane relief efforts, the AMD must balance mobility requests in support of other critical missions across the nation.
After Hurricane Harvey dissipated, the flood waters left a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other disease carrying pests. The AMD was simultaneously coordinating flights for mobility requests and C-130H Hercules flights equipped with the modular aerial spray system to help control the pests.
During that time, even as the waves of Hurricane Irma raced toward Florida’s shores, wild fires were raging in the northwestern region of the U.S.
The mobility Airmen assigned here also coordinated the C-130 Hercules flights fighting the fires with the modular airborne firefighting system.
And if coordinating the mobility flights across multiple lines of efforts was not enough, the AMD was also responsible for standing up a Regional Air Movement Control Center with combined operations with the Federal Aviation Administration to support both hurricane relief efforts.
This RAMCC/FAA combined operation, known as the Harvey/Irma Flight Operations Coordination Center was responsible for coordinating all U.S. military, commercial, governmental and non-governmental flow control into and out of the ramp area at Henry E. Rohlsen Airport (St. Thomas, Virgin Islands), Marathon Field, Fla., and Key West International Airport, Fla. Operating 24 hours a day, they provided aircraft landing and take-off times and coordinated air traffic control with various civilian agencies.
“The AMD truly is a critical component for air operations supporting civil authorities during disaster relief,” said Smith. “The dedication, pride and professionalism displayed here was second to none.”
The 601st AOC, often referred to as America's AOC, is responsible for detecting, deterring, defending and if necessary, defeating any aviation threat to the citizens of the United States and to U.S. critical infrastructure. The Florida Air National Guard's 101st Air and Space Operations Group provides the manning for the 601st AOC to fulfil their mission of defending the homeland.