With boots on the ground for national and global crisis of all kinds, it stands to reason that those boots would be willing to march through the muck, to wade through the water and battle against the ravages of a war raged by nature. And as Hurricane Irma cast her sights on launching a full-blown assault on Florida, Ft. Campbell’s own 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) had their boots at the ready to assist in any way they could, deploying more than 35 aircraft, 40 vehicles and 370 personnel to various locations in the affected area.
“There is no nobler task, no more profound depth of commitment and no selfless service greater than people helping people, and Americans helping Americans,” says Maj. Gen. Andrew Poppas, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) commander.
Fortunately, the brigade was not needed, and so they returned to base on September 14th and 15th. It was a readiness exercise of the highest order, proving once again the bravery of the 101st to meet any challenge head on. “For the last 75 years, the division has responded to threats near and far,” says Lt. Col. Martin L. O’Donnell, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) spokesperson.
“The ability of the soldiers within the task force to rapidly deploy, stage, and be prepared to move out at a moment’s notice speaks volumes to the readiness and capabilities of this unit and the division,” notes Lt. Col. Ryan P. Boyle, the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade aviation task force commander based at Mobile Regional Airport. “The coordination that took place between our higher headquarters and the various agencies involved—as well as the support we received from the Mobile Police and Fire Departments and Regional Airport Authorities—made this process extremely easy, allowing our Soldiers to focus on the mission at hand.”
“Although we were not officially called upon to assist with Hurricane Irma relief efforts, from the time that we were alerted of the mission to the time that we landed at Patrick Air Force Base was only a matter of a few days, and our MEDEVAC Blackhawks and crews were fully mission capable within 16 hours,” adds Lt. Col. James R. Yastrzemsky, the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade task force commander based at Patrick Air Force Base. “Our rapid response time from flash to bang goes to show the level of readiness, sense of urgency, and commitment from our soldiers and what they are able to accomplish in a very short amount of time.
“We learned that we can rise to any challenge to get the job done, and when we received the call to prepare for our next rendezvous with destiny, we were ready,” Yastrzemsky goes on. “At the end of the day, the mission was to support our fellow Americans in their time of need.”
And while those troops might not have been called to task for Irma, mere weeks later, the 101st once again rose to provide relief, this time deploying to Puerto Rico as part of the Defense Support of Civil Authorities mission organized by the Defense Department in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
Under the name Team Medevac, more than 70 personnel and eight HH-60 medevac Blackhawk helicopters from the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st ABN DIV (AASLT) were transported to José Aponte de la Torre Airport in Ceiba, a coastal municipality on the northeast section of the island.
“We have been called forward and will provide a unique capability with our medevac helicopters,” says Team Medevac commander Maj. Kurtis P. Evick. “We will [be able to] help save lives and mitigate suffering, and we will continue to serve the American people of Puerto Rico until we are no longer needed.”
“What’s happened in Puerto Rico is nothing short of a tragedy, but I’m honored to support this relief effort and to help the citizens of our nation,” adds 1st. Sgt. Jason C. Straub, senior enlisted leader of Team Medevac. “Our soldiers [have been] trained, our aircraft are prepped, and we’re ready to go.”
Readiness is always top of mind for the 101st; and while Irma was indeed a test-run of that readiness in the unique conditions of a national disaster, the cruelty of Hurricane Maria’s wrath has been such that these ever-ready and ever-willing soldiers have been called to the field to engage in this particular battle. “The 101st Airborne Division has responded to numerous civil emergencies, but this is the first time we have supported commonwealth and federal officials to provide hurricane relief,” notes O’Donnell.
“Our soldiers continue to stand ready and proudly by our division’s slogan: ‘When you want it done—call the 101!’” offers Yastrzemsky.
Time and again, they firmly reflect that motto. And time and again, we marvel at their bravery.