By Rear Adm. Bruce Lindsey
Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic
Between hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, nearly 170 Americans lost their lives this summer. Thousands of others lost their homes and all their possessions: clothing, furniture, pets and decades of memories. Our hearts and prayers go out to all those caught in the path of these deadly storms. We have seen tragedies like this play out before with hurricanes such as Andrew, Gustov and Katrina. Now Harvey, Irma and Maria join these names forever burned into our memories.
While all of these hurricanes resulted in death and destruction, they also have something else in common – the Navy was there to answer the call for help.
As Hurricane Harvey approached the shores of Texas, the Navy was called into action. HSC-7 Dusty Dogs and HSC-28 Dragon Whales were the first squadrons to arrive on station, tirelessly working around the clock through dangerous weather conditions to save lives. Often in the darkness of night, using night vision optics and infrared capabilities, the two squadrons saved hundreds of citizens from the rising flood waters.
All told, HSC-7 and HSC-28 flew 49 sorties accumulating 225 flight hours. They combined for 358 rescues while also saving 22 dogs and 5 cats, and delivering 1,660 lbs. of water, food and medical supplies. They were relieved Sept. 3 by our West Coast counterparts, HSC-21 Blackjacks and HSC-23 Wildcards, who continued flying search and rescue/logistics coverage during the day and stood the alert SAR overnight.
Less than two weeks later, Hurricane Irma came ashore in southern Florida leaving a trail of destruction as it moved north. The Florida Keys were amongst the hardest hit area with homes destroyed, boats sunk in channels and harbors, and power cut off to the thousands of stranded survivors. Without skipping a beat, the Navy was there to respond. Stationed aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), HSM-70 Spartans and HSC-28 Dragon Whales flew mission after mission to provide help delivering food, fresh water and medical supplies. To their south off the Florida Keys, HSC-22 Sea Knights joined in the efforts from aboard USS Wasp (LHD 1), who was accompanied by six HSC-28 MH-60S’s embarked in USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) and four MH-60Rs, one aircraft each from HSM-40/46/48/74, embarked in USS New York (LPD 21).
As things were looking up for Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico were in the crosshairs once again for a third hurricane. Maria was a Category 4 storm with winds gusting up to 156 mph. The devastation was massive and unprecedented.
In addition to our ships that were already in the area, four Norfolk-based squadrons completed a successful 1,400-mile cross-country flight to Puerto Rico. Nearly 200 personnel from HSC-5, HSC-7, HM-14, and HM-15 once again answered the call for the Navy. Their efforts are proving to be instrumental in bringing relief to those ravaged by the destructive power of Mother Nature.
As of Oct. 16, the Navy-Marine Corps team aboard USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), USS Wasp (LHD 1), USS Oak Hill (LSD 51), and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit have conducted 68 MEDEVAC flights, logged roughly 920 flight hours in support of recovery operations, and delivered nearly 3.5 million lbs of relief supplies and cargo.
Whether it’s defending our nation or rushing to the aid of our citizens in distress, Americans can count on our Navy. This is why we have a Navy and why we constantly train to be ready on a moment’s notice. Our aviators, our air crews, our maintainers and our shipboard Sailors continue to make us proud with their professional and selfless service on the front lines of these storms, but we should also acknowledge the efforts of those in operations, maintenance, supply, public affairs, legal, medical and countless other departments.
Naval Aviation is a TEAM sport and the team is STRONG.