Commander's Commentary

Commander’s Commentary

As I sit here reflecting on October’s events I am humbled to know that I am part of such an amazing organization.  On October 3, the governors of Florida and North Carolina declared an emergency, followed shortly thereafter by South Carolina.  On October 6, FEMA’s National Resource Coordination Center (NRCC) went to Level 1, which requires CAP to man our desk to serve as a liaison to FEMA. A number of MER members are part of this team.  Colonels Weiss, Moseley, Benckert, Covel, Heinlein, Egry, Trick, Carter, and Knowles; Lt. Cols. Sydow and Secrest, and Maj. Stuart.  When the NRCC is activated, our LNO’s take 12-hour shifts providing input to FEMA on CAP’s capabilities and resources.  This can be especially challenging when the disaster is in our region.  Col. Benckert serves as the lead LNO and ensured that our desk was manned throughout the mission. 

Hurricane Mathew Response
South Carolina was hit first.  Their state was well prepared having endured a major flood just a year ago.  CAP aircraft provided situational awareness (SA) during the evacuation stage when the major interstate traffic pattern was redirected inland to provide double the capacity for those evacuating the coastlines. Planning started before the first raindrops fell and resources from other wings within the region; NCWG, VAWG, and MDWG stepped up to assist with aircraft, crews and mission staff for SCWG.  Cols. Crawford, MER/operations officer, and Weiss (MER/vice Commander and, at the time, acting commander) worked hard coordinating the region’s support to SCWG.  Although I was out of the country on vacation I followed the events as they unfolded knowing Col. Weiss and the staff had things well under control.

The hurricane was forecast to follow the coast through Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina before moving east towards the Atlantic as it crossed into North Carolina.  Matthew had other plans and once it crossed into North Carolina it slowed way down and continued to rain, with 10” to 14” falling across the state.  The flooding caused by the rain broke water level records on three major rivers. The water was one to four feet higher than previous flood records.  Two rivers in South Carolina also broke records.  Knowing that this was going to stretch on, the MER reached out to wings in the Southeast Region (SER) and Great Lakes Region (GLR) to put them on alert for help.  In fact, I flew up to Indiana Wing for their change of command ceremony on the Oct 8 and met with Col. Ed Phelka, the GLR commander, and Col. Leo Burke, the GLR vice commander for operations, and finalized the plan for INWG to send a GA8 Airvan to SCWG.  The ILWG commander was there and he offered to keep his GA8 out of the repair shop in case we needed it as well.  We discussed the idea of additional resources from the GLR if the mission went long.

The Shift to North Carolina
As the waters continued to rise in North Carolina, resources within the MER shifted.  Aircrews from NATCAP, including the wing commander, Col. Bruce Heinlein, flew to North Carolina to help.  Our own Col. Weiss and Lt. Col. Brenda Reed deployed to South Carolina to help at the mission base along with other members.  Lt. Col. Reed served as the Public Information Officer for CAP as directed by National Headquarters.  The planning section, working with state and federal agencies, drew up requirements leading into the next 3 to 5 days.  Emails, phone calls and conference calls were held in order to keep everyone on the same page and to respond as one team. As we worked through these, the MER, NCWG and SCWG OPS staff worked so well together I couldn’t help but reflect on how the OPSEVALS and Joint SAREVALS, as well as the MERSAR College that we worked on over the last several years really prepared us for this mission and set us up for success.

As most of you know, the mission did extend longer than planned and expanded in scope as well.  We also had the opportunity to work a new mission for CAP.  Several of the wings in the MER, working with Capt. Marc Madden, a member of VAWG and a full time FEMA employee, have been training members in PODS (Points of Distribution System).  This training rolled out after Hurricane Sandy, where we explored some mission areas that CAP could assist with.  This training came in handy in North Carolina.  The NCWG, working with the state and FEMA provided trained members to assist at four PODS sites in the state.  These included cadets who stepped up to help their neighbors.  As Matthew moved into a third week, our resources needed some help, and we reached out to SER and GLR who were standing by to help.  Resources moved quickly on October 15-16 to relieve the exhausted Airmen who had been working for days.  Those of you that follow me on social media saw links to news stories about our amazing cadets and seniors from across every wing in the region and several in the SER and the GLR.  I know that many of these members went above and beyond to help. They are forever changed, in a positive way, by what they saw and what they did.  Here are some links to some stories:

While attending the West Virginia Wing conference on Friday night I got the call from the NCWG commander that I thought might be coming.  He said, “We need more help than we can spin up with the resources we have.”  As I mentioned earlier, we had put the SER and GLR on alert for possible taskings.  As it happened, the ILWG was also holding their wing conference and the GLR commander and his staff were all together.  After a couple of calls to them and to SER Commander Col. Barry Melton, more help was on the way.  At the end of operations, members of the MER, SER, and GLR staff, as well as members of DC, VA, MD, NC, SC, IN, TN, KY, MI, IL wings deployed and/or supported the mission.  Words of thanks and “we appreciate your help” aren’t really adequate.  I am so proud of our amazing unpaid professionals who put aside their personal needs and really struck the cord of volunteer service and excellence in all we do.   I am truly in awe of our team.

West Virginia Wing Conference
These commentaries often include congratulations to various units or members who earned awards over the past month. So far this one has been a little short on that.  As you probably figured out I was pretty busy with Matthew, but I did have the pleasure of attending the West Virginia Wing conference joining Col. Paul McCrosky and Maj. Gen. Joe Vazquez as we honored a number of members who earned awards this past year and recognized WVWG’s own volunteers who responded to the state’s 1000 year flood this past year.  I had the pleasure of presenting the Ira C. Eaker Award to C/Lt. Col. Rachel Donnelly of the Morgantown Composite Squadron, who was also selected as the WVWG cadet of the year.  It was an impressive conference with a lot of camaraderie, as well as great learning going on.

Saying Goodbye
We said goodbye to a couple of former members this past month.  Many of you know Lt. Col. John Henderson, one of the vice commanders for Maryland Wing whose father passed away.  His father was a former member, who like a lot of members, joined when his son became involved as a cadet.  Lt. Col. Dan Brodsky, our former MER Cadet Programs director, lost his wife Megan suddenly.  Former C/Col. Brian Campbell, a very active member of the Spaatz Association, died during a robbery in Atlanta.  The Campbell and Brodsky families both have young children.  Your thoughts and prayers have been one of the lights in an otherwise dark time.  Our members are all part of a big family and like any big family we are closer to some members than others.  However, it is heartwarming to see how our family comes together to support one another when things like this happen.  Thank you to those who have supported these families during their time of need and please continue to do what you can into the future.

Squadron Visit
I closed out the month by attending a local unit, Charles Composite Squadron’s fifth annual dining out.  I served as the wing commander when this squadron was chartered so I get an invitation every year to come back for a visit.  Maryland Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Linda Singh was the keynote speaker.  The Maryland National Guard and Maryland CAP have one of the best CAP/Guard relationships in the country.  She is an amazing officer and has an amazing story.  Google her when you have a chance.

Annual Retreat
The MER staff will be holding their annual retreat to review FY 2016 goals and publish them for FY 2017 in November.  Our Inspector General is presenting the Senior IG course and Maryland Wing is having their conference. I hope to see some of you at one of these events.  Please continue pushing through the inventory process.  We have our own internal MER deadline of 7 December and a number of wings have established their own deadline.  As we enter into the holiday season — yes, Thanksgiving is in a couple of weeks — please continue to focus on ORM and safe operations.  We did a ton of flying, transporting people, and delivering needed supplies to hurricane victims this past month without any injuries.  Our continued safe operations depend on all of us being proactive and always keeping the safety of our members and the public foremost in our minds.  Speaking of Thanksgiving, as we all join our families around the table, I know that as we say grace before beginning our meal I will be thankful for  my extended family of all of you.  Thank you for all that you do!