MER Commander's Commentary - November 2015
I often use this commentary to share information from around the region and recognize members who are doing great things. After a year of writing these, I was bound to mess up the details on someone. So, just like the New York Times, I have to make a correction to a "story.” I incorrectly reported the squadron that the Buslinger family are members of: they are in the Danville Composite Squadron of the Virginia Wing.
October’s major story was Hurricane Joaquin, which formed in the Atlantic and was forecast to strike the east coast. Fortunately, for most of us, a low pressure "Nor'easter" collided with Joaquin pushing the storm out to sea. Unfortunately for South Carolina, this storm dumped 21-27 inches of rain over a five-day period causing catastrophic flooding across the state. Your Civil Air Patrol was on the front lines throughout the storm, providing planning support before the storm hit, followed by operational support as soon as we could safely launch aircraft.
I would like to share excerpts from three emails I received. The first came from the SCWG Commander, Col. Francis Smith, to the wing commanders of the wings that provided support (GA, NC, VA, and MD):
Please pass along my thanks and appreciation for a job well done to your folks that helped us during our flood event. Your crews did a great job, and I know there were others on standby in case they were needed. I was so pleased to see everyone that showed up - I’ve had excellent experience working with a great many of the ones you sent us at MERSAR and in our joint events over the years. I immediately knew we’d gotten your best. We were so overtasked and short on aircraft early on, but your prompt response alleviated that in just hours and really helped us gain credibility as a go-to resource. That’s a serious luxury when you’re a commander in a crisis situation. The mission started out like wildfire like they always do, then scaled back, ramped up again, and then trickled out at the end. I can’t tell you enough about how well CAP responded to the mission, and your folks were integral in our ability to do that.
The second came from Lt. Col Brian Tenbrunsel, ANG the S.C. Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) "Air boss.”
On behalf of the South Carolina Emergency Operations Center's Air Operations Branch, I would like to thank Col Jay Lindler of the Civil Air Patrol for the outstanding support during the 2015 flooding of South Carolina. Col Lindler's expertise in search and rescue, and his ability to plan, execute, and provide post mission reports was un-matched by any other participating aviation agency. Col Lindler and the Civil Air Patrol were the "Work Horse" of the South Carolina Search and Rescue Action Plan. With the dynamic situation of a flood crest moving along six different rivers over a week long period, Col Lindler's expertise in deliberate search and rescue planning and execution, was critical to the success of the SAR effort. The CAP was the "Go-to" platform for deliberate SAR as well as Incident Awareness and Assessment (IAA). Col. Lindler was able to coordinate search and rescue operations with IAA by multi-tasking his resources, allowing greater efficiency, and effectively multiplying his existing capabilities. Col Lindler proactively managed his aircraft to ramp up or "surge" to meet the immediate needs of the state, and then carefully drawing down his assets while meeting every air tasking request from the State. During an emergency SAR notification of a stranded community of over 200 people, Col Lindler was able to re-task airborne CAP aircraft to the location. Col Lindler's expertise in search and rescue, his ability to effectively mission plan with other agencies, together with the Civil Air Patrol's flawless execution, reflect credit upon himself, the Civil Air Patrol, the State of South Carolina, and the United States of America. [Col. Lindler served as the Liaison to SEOC and an IC]
As equally important were the planning efforts over the last two years by Capt Brett Grooms and Maj Lee Safley. The cooperation and support of these individuals were instrumental in the success of the Air Operations Branch/Civil Air Patrol partnership in managing civil emergencies. If it were not for the outstanding efforts of these two individuals, including two major state exercises over two years, and multiple organizational and planning meetings with State EMD and SAR, the Air Operations Branch in the 2015 flooding would not have been as successful as it was.
Finally, a letter from Lt. Gen. William Etter, 1st Air Force commander to the SCWG commander:
Congratulations to you and your team for the outstanding work in support of the South Carolina flooding last week. The heroic efforts of you and your team in addition to the long hours worked, continuously shaped leadership's assessment of the situation.
Over the course of the week, the Civil Air Patrol flew in excess of 100 sorties relocating assets for assistance and providing time critical imagery and reconnaissance vital for incident and situational awareness. Time and again, Civil Air Patrol provided leaders valuable information in order to make timely decisions. I have no doubt your efforts saved lives during this catastrophic event.
Please accept my thanks, and well done!
Words cannot express how proud I am of our USAF Auxiliary Airmen who set aside their lives to help South Carolina’s citizens during this "1,000-year" storm. The Middle East Region, following its motto of "No Borders, No Boundaries," responded to the request from Col. Smith on day one. The closest wings were NC and GA and, after a brief discussion with the SER/CC, offers for help came quickly, including offers from the Great Lakes Region (KY also borders SC). The MER/A3 (Operations) Lt. Col. Jay Langley coordinated support as requests came in, and daily conference calls were held that included the supporting wings, myself and the MER operations staff. Numerous additional communications included FEMA and the National Operations Center. Maj. Gen. Vazquez offered any help that CAP could give from anywhere, clearing the way for Col. Smith and the folks in SCWG from day one.
Like many of you when I hear a call for help I want to drop everything and respond. This is the nature of a volunteer and the heart and soul of many of those who serve as first responders. In fact, every wing in MER was ready to send help. I am reminded of a quote I heard in the past: "They also serve who stand and wait (or spend time on the phone).” Our response to this mission was measured and effective.
Col. Smith mentioned on more than one occasion that the relationships made during the MERSAR College were a key part of increasing the ability of SCWG to respond. Most of you have heard me say we have to train like we fight so we can fight like we train. This "fight" demonstrated again why we work together as a region during training exercises and USAF evaluations. MERSAR is scheduled for April 22-24, 2016, at Ft Pickett, Va. If you are an experienced ES-qualified member, volunteer as staff; if you want to be able to help the next time we need help, sign up when the time comes. We need you to get out of the stands and into the game.
Like all missions, we perform an after action review. This is in the works but one of the items that came up early on was the need to provide additional support during the mission for public affairs. This is not one of the things we often think about when we are called out for a mission but it is a vital function in NIMS. Working with the staff at Maxwell AFB, the region deployed Maj. Brenda Reed, MER/PA, as part of our response. On less than a day’s notice she packed up her bag and headed to SC for as long as she was needed. Getting out the message about what we are doing is a vital role. Many of you saw the television spots on aircrews. There will be an article in the next Volunteer magazine as well. If you have a talent for writing and networking, this may be a specialty you should consider.
I would be remiss not to recognize the members of the VAWG and MDWG who responded to requests from their own states for imagery missions during the storm. If you want to be involved but are not certain about what specialty to pursue, allow me to suggest one of our newest tracks, AP (aerial photographer). CAP is quickly becoming the "go to" resource for pictures following an event, so if you have a desire and some talent you should go for it.
I just returned from a fantastic weekend at the West Virginia Wing conference in Charleston, WV. Col. McCrosky and his staff held many informative sessions at the state capital. Teri and I were welcomed by the members of the wing and closed out the event with a Dining Out that included a "grog bowl.” Having been to my share of these I was very careful to follow the rules of the mess and I was not sent to the grog by the President of the Mess. However, I understand from Lt. Col. Dodrill, the WVWG/CV, that it was rather salty and chunky. The evening was topped off by congratulating the WVWG Cadet of the Year, C/Lt. Col. Nicole Orr, and the Senior Member of the Year, Maj. Richard Judy. Congratulations to all the "of the year" award winners and the numerous other members who received awards throughout the day.
Some questions have come up about the recruiting contest for the region. The contest runs from 1 July 2015 to 1 April 2016. There will be a cadet and a senior member winner. Their recruits can be cadet or seniors. The cost of attending the conference will be waived for the winners. The information for this will come from the eServices member recruiting report. If the person that you recruited forgot to put your CAPID on the form, your squadron commander can add this after the fact. As of October 26, the leader is Cadet Caleb Mize (NC-150) with five recruits. Close behind is a three-way tie for the SM category with 4 recruits – Lt. Col. Jay Langley (MER-001); 1st Lt. Shelly Willis (NC-301); and SM Timothy Bagnell (NC-150). Overall the region is showing positive growth (100%+) on both the cadet and senior member category for both short and long term periods. Keep up the good work!
Let me close by talking about safety. It should be noted that the missions flown in support of the disaster in South Carolina were done without a mishap. If you'll pardon the pun, this does not happen by accident. It happens because of a focus on safety training, ORM, and safe operations. We respond to emergencies and we save lives. We do this with the mindset that we can't become a new mission or a casualty of the ongoing mission. Everyone goes home at the end of the day and it is everyone's job to ensure that this occurs. Thank you for all that you do for our nation.
JOHN M. KNOWLES, Colonel, CAP
Middle East Region, Civil Air Patrol