AFNORTH provides search and rescue for Gustav

By NORAD and USNORTHCOM Public Affairs


TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – Joint search and rescue forces are responding in three states as Hurricane Gustav bears down on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

After five days of mobilization of forces and equipment, a new search and rescue group has been established to assist in human relief efforts in areas affected by Hurricane Gustav.

Col. Steve Kirkpatrick, commander of the 920th Search and Rescue Air Expeditionary Group, is responsible for Gustav SAR operations out of Jackson, Miss., Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base, Texas, and Pensacola, Fla.

“This is a huge effort between state and military agencies providing forces with specialized training in areas like medical and command and control,” said Colonel Kirkpatrick. “These representatives serve the states in support of civil authorities.”

Last week, in coordination with U.S. Northern Command, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Air Forces Northern stood up the first Joint Personnel Recovery Center at Tyndall Air Force Base that conducts an all-agencies approach to planning and joint air rescue coordination operations.

“This is an opportunity to make a difference to save Americans that may not get the help they need,” said Colonel Kirkpatrick. “We have highly trained and experienced personnel on our search and rescue teams, equipped to rapidly respond to the disaster.”

Forces are in place and ready to provide search and rescue when and where it is needed, said Colonel Kirkpatrick.

More than 500 joint forces personnel and approximately 28 Air Force, Navy and Army helicopters, along with four HC-130s are under Colonel Kirkpatrick’s command, serving the states with qualified and immediate medical care, while bringing the ability to conduct air refueling, air lift, air drops of supplies, and the ability to hoist people in need, out of flooding water.

“In Hurricane Katrina, all of our wings did a great job in saving lives.” said Colonel Kirkpatrick. “It is an honor to be able to serve Americans again when they need us the most.”

“Advanced planning and coordination is the key to success,” said Lt. Christian Rigney, the U. S. Coast Guard liaison, who works as one of the 12 personnel at JPRC to ensure Coast Guard assets work through their channels to get what Emergency Operations Centers on the ground request.

“This is a unified effort with Navy forces, Coast Guard, Army, Marines, and the Air Force, all working as a team with the sole purpose of saving lives,” said Lt. John Nadder, the Navy search and rescue planner of the JPRC.

First Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Hank Morrow stood up the JPRC for Hurricane Gustav to coordinate, plan and conduct joint air rescue operations with federal, state and local rescue agency search and rescue teams.

Joint forces from North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, and Arizona began moving air craft over the last five days to Texas, Louisiana and Florida in coordination with the JRPC.  Lt. Col. Jed Hudson, commander of the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall, provides 24/7 search and rescue coordination with state, local, military, and federal agencies across the United States.

Federal forces through JPRC and AFRCC are poised to respond to other locations, depending on where Gustav makes landfall. They are also keeping a close eye on Tropical Storm Hanna as it churns off the Atlantic Coast.