ACCE team leaves for Hurricane Ike support

By NORAD and USNORTHCOM Public Affairs | September 12, 2008

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Only days after the team returned from Louisiana following Hurricane Gustav, the Air Forces Northern Air Component Coordination Element left here Sept. 10 for San Antonio as Texas braced for Hurricane Ike. 

Commonly known as the ACCE, this group of Air Force subject matter experts coordinates the movement of Air Force assets into stricken regions during natural disasters or other contingencies.  The team also supports state and federal evacuation, humanitarian relief and search and rescue missions. 

The ACCE serves with the operational command post for Army North to provide Air Force expertise in the field, said Brig. Gen. John Del Toro, AFNORTH’s ACCE director.  “It gives the deployed customer the capability to determine if the way they envision the use of air assets makes sense in the field,” he added. 

When needed, the team can also reach back to the Air Operations Center here to request additional Air Force support. 

“We’re going out to save lives, mitigate suffering and prevent a huge loss of property,” said General Del Toro, who also serves as the assistant adjutant general for the Montana Air National Guard in Fort Harrison, Mont.  “It’s not something we train for in our ‘go to war’ role.  It’s not an easy thing to do.” 

Using lessons learned during previous hurricanes, the team is prepared to face what the general called its worse-case scenario -- instances where the storm causes major damage to infrastructure and knocks out all communications capabilities.  To prepare for this possibility, the team includes a Deployable Initial Communications Element, or DICE.  This additional team sets up dedicated telephone and satellite communications systems to allow military planners on the ground to make on-the-spot decisions.  

Everything the ACCE brings to the battle against Hurricane Ike will build upon what the local, state and federal agencies already established in Texas – “and make it better,” General Del Toro said.

Being able to provide immediate support on the ground also meant deploying extremely close to the hurricane’s expected path just days before it makes landfall.

 “We’re deploying in advance just to make sure … we have the right people in the right spot at the right time,” the general said. “If we wait until [someone] determines that it’s time to move, it might be too late.”