Fla. Air National Guard's 101st AOG enhances Haiti air operations

  • Published
  • By Lt Col Ron Tittle
Florida Guardsmen have been working to assist the Haitian government, Federal Aviation Administration, and U.S. Southern Command in coordinating the flow of supplies into Port-Au-Prince Airport in Haiti since Friday.

The unique capabilities of the Fla. AOG were relied upon to establish the Haitian Flight Operations Coordination Center (HFOCC) while operating from their center at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The model for the coordination center was developed after Hurricane Katrina to smooth the flow of relief supplies into a disaster area.

"We are supporting the AFSOUTH Air Operations Center, the air component of U.S. Southern Command, 24/7 to provide this capability", stated Col. Randall Spear, commander of the 601st Air and Space Operations Center at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. "Supplies from around the world are now flowing into Haiti as a direct result of this effort."

"Previously, aircraft flowing into Haiti had a gridlock of several hours because there was no place to park or unload aircraft," according to Lt. Col.
Brad Graff, director of the HFOCC and chief of the 601st Air Mobility Division. "Now relief supplies - medical, water, and food - are steadily flowing into Haiti."

According to Spear, people from all over the world are talking with the Florida Airmen to get their slot time onto the ramp. He reiterated Haitian authorities are not letting anyone land unless they have a slot time from the coordination center. The Haitian authorities dictate their priorities and needs to the HFOCC through SOUTHCOM.

Additionally, the Fla. Air National Guardsmen are also assisting with airspace flow of air cargo into Homestead Air Reserve Base. They may pick up additional missions in other areas in order to maximize airlift to quake-ravaged Haiti.

"I am extremely proud of the professionalism of our Fla. Guardsmen at the 101st AOG as well as the active duty Airmen working beside them around-the-clock to ensure the protection of our homeland," commented
Adjutant General of Florida Maj. Gen. Douglas Burnett. "They are able to
take their daily, superb skills and rise to new heights to ensure an effective air response to a critical situation in Haiti."

Working in Florida, and particularly being Florida Guardsmen, the 101st AOG has a depth of experience in dealing with natural disasters enabling them to expedite the flow of critical resources into the disaster area.

"We have become the experts in contingency response and planning when it comes to employing air support in disasters," Spear said.

The 101st AOG provides a 24/7 force for the 601st Air and Space Operations Center and its higher air component command - 1st Air Force, also referred to as AFNORTH. According to Air Force officials, the teamwork exhibited through their day-to-day work, and particularly during emergency operations, shows the success of the U.S. Air Force's Total Force.

The Total Force concept taps into the inherent strength and experience of all three Air Force components to increase overall combat capability. It combines Airmen from active-duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units for specific missions. Each component has unique strengths that together, produce a more effective combat force and efficient peacetime force, officials said.

As a U.S. Northern Command air component, AFNORTH is the senior agency in the U.S. Theater Air Control System (USTACS), according to the agency's website.
It is specifically responsible for the land areas of the Continental U.S., the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the surrounding seas out to approximately 500 nautical miles.

When tasked, AFNORTH conducts homeland defense and Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) operations in the USNORTHCOM area of responsibility. The DSCA mission is to use air assets to mitigate loss of life and provide disaster relief; support local, state, regional, and federal emergency service agencies; and protect the American people and their way of life.

In the case of critical response to the tragedy in Haiti, the unique skills and teamwork of the AOG reflect the experience and coordination crucial to help save lives and provide some form of hope in a wave of despair.