166th Airlift Wing brings Soldiers home for holidays after Hurricane Maria relief efforts

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Gwendolyn Blakley

NEW CASTLE AIR NATIONAL GUARD, Del.- Members of the Delaware Army National Guard’s 1049th Transportation Company returned home Thurs, Dec.14, after two months supporting hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico. Their ride? A C-130 Hercules, courtesy the 166th Airlift Wing.


Eight crew members from the 166th Operations Group and Aircraft Maintenance Squadron flew down to San Juan, Puerto Rico, this week to pick up 36 members of the 1049th Transportation Company and more than 2800 pounds of cargo.


During the multi-day trip, Lt. Col. Andrew Sides piloted the aircraft and led the aircrew. He said he is pleased in the efforts made by all crew members, and the overall goal of the mission.


“Being able to lend a hand to the folks affected down here who are not just our brethren in the Army but our brothers and sisters who are affected in Puerto Rico is rewarding,” he said “It is a blessing that we are able to provide transportation to our Delaware Army National Guard team, so that they don’t have to use outside resources for transportation.”


The operations tempo has elevated in the past five months as a result of multiple hurricane relief efforts. Both the 166th Operations and Maintenance Groups have played a crucial role in responding to hurricane relief operations for hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. The team has conducted nine operations to support disaster relief, accumulating more than 40,000 flight miles, and transporting over five hundred and fifty personnel and over 120 tons of cargo.


Operations personnel are always ready to fly and carry out the mission in support of the Air Force with short notice. Staff Sgt. Michael Jefferson, loadmaster, has taken on a new role to assist air crew members with heading out the door during this hurricane season.


“I was assigned to our current operations unit to work right before this hurricane season started.  We had several missions supporting European Command, and when our members came back the hurricanes began,” he said. “We were able to support the hurricane missions with short notice; we provided the aircrews and aircraft to help out in any way we are asked according to our home station requirements.”


During this particular operation there were two new aircrew members aboard their first or second hurricane relief trip, and these members were able to collaborate with veteran aircrew staff.


Airman 1st Class Sandra Berry, loadmaster, 166th Ops Group, volunteered to go on this mission, and was her first overnight hurricane relief mission. She said that this position is a dream come true.


“Part of the reason why I joined is because I heard that the National Guard performs humanitarian relief missions,” she said. “I get hands on experience and the opportunity to help others. I am able to fulfill a dream that I always wanted to achieve.”


Berry worked alongside Tech. Sgt. Michael Schoonover, loadmaster- instructor, 166th Operations Group during the mission. Schoonover provided insight and guidance for the Airmen on the mission.


“When you leave Little Rock, Arkansas, after technical school and enter your duty station, you are a fully qualified loadmaster- meaning you know the books,” he said. “But you get the best knowledge by experience. I’m happy to be able to guide these younger Airmen on these missions and pass along those experiences.”


There were other mentoring opportunities, too. Master Sgt. Ryan Hardy and Staff Sgt. Robert Beard, both flight engineers in the 166th Operations Group, shared the load of their duties.


Hardy, whom has over twenty years of experience as a flight engineer, offered a word of advice to Beard on his flight experience out of tech school to focus on the big picture.


“Enjoy what you’re doing, relax, and take it all in. Realize that you have this wonderful opportunity to go Puerto Rico and pick up our members to get them home for the holidays.”


Members of the 1049th were excited to return home, and expressed pride in the work that they accomplished during their mission in Puerto Rico.


“Our brothers and sisters were in need so we chose to help them. In doing so, we created friendships and shared genuine love for others. We learned the true meaning of humanity,” said Spc. Justin Robins.


Spc. Raina Sancy said the people of Puerto Rico welcomed the aid. "Our permanent duty was to support the Puerto Rico National Guard. We transported food, water, supplies, hygiene products, and tarps to civilians."


Soldiers agreed that they were happy to have helped others.


“Just knowing we were able to provide families with food and water where it was needs most made everything worthwhile. Every “thank you” is a great feeling knowing that you have done what you came to do,” said Sgt. Bambie Wise.


This mission was unique because of the resource sharing and teamwork among the joint Delaware National Guard forces, the Puerto Rico National Guard, and the citizens of Puerto Rico.


Sides also offered a final reflection of his disaster relief experience, and what makes being a member of the National Guard so rewarding.


“Normally we go off to war, but when we are able to help another state or territory, it makes you feel good.”