Rescue personnel fly first flights from Randolph

By Staff Sgt. Matthew Bates Air Force News Agency

RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFPN)  -- Three HH-60 Pave Hawks and aircrews belonging to the 331st Air Expeditionary Group took off from here earlier the afternoon of Sept. 13 carrying search and rescue personnel to the Galveston, Texas, area in the wake of Hurricane Ike.

The flight marks the first of many that may leave from Randolph Air Force Base to take part in rescue operations. 

More flights are scheduled to take place throughout the evening and will continue for as long as needed.

"We're working closely with Texas authorities and other agencies on the ground to find out where we're needed, and there are already a lot of calls coming in," said Col. Steve Kirkpatrick, the 331st AEG commander.

Once in the air, the helicopters are directed where they are needed by airborne warning and control system aircraft.

"The AWACS gets information from folks on the ground and then tasks our helicopters to provide rescue support," the colonel said.

This support can range from picking up stranded residents to entering homes through the roof or even making a water rescue. Each helicopter carries a pararescueman specially trained to perform these actions.

"Our rescue teams are going to be busy today," Colonel Kirkpatrick said. "They are going to be tested and will have to adapt to a lot of different situations. This is where all the training pays off."

Members of the 331st AEG currently has five HH-60s staged at Randolph AFB, but unit officials said they expect to have a dozen to use once others arrive from bases in Florida and Georgia. Helicopters, the colonel said, that the unit can definitely use.

"We're going to busy for a while," he said. 

The 331st AEG is just one part of a massive support network.

"There are a lot of other civilian and military people out there doing the same thing we are," he said. "But, if we can do our part and save some lives, that's the best we can ask for."