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Air Force Materiel Command provides assistance in Katrina's aftermath

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFMCNS) -- When disaster struck the Gulf Coast states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida last week in the form of Hurricane Katrina, Air Force Materiel Command stood up its Crisis Action Team to assist with relief efforts to the region.

Since then, support has come from each of the command's bases - from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to Hanscom AFB, Mass. and the other eight in between. The support has been in the form of people as well as equipment.

"We've deployed nearly 150 people command-wide," said Jim Dibert, a program analyst with the Headquarters AFMC Directorate of Operations and CAT team member. "We've sent people and some equipment from Civil Engineering, Security Forces, Contracting, Public Affairs and Personnel, as well as medics and chaplains."

Additionally, transportation equipment has been sent to the affected areas, said Becky Harkleroad, chief, AFMC headquarters deployment cell.

Once in place, AFMC people were put to work. In New Orleans, deployed AFMC Security Forces are directly assisting local police officers, Mr. Dibert said. At Eglin AFB, Fla., a convoy of eight security-escorted vehicles transported Keesler AFB, Miss., evacuees back to their homes in the Biloxi area, according to base officials.

Medics, to include doctors, nurses, bioenvironmental and public health personnel, are attending to displaced hurricane victims at recovery centers, Mr. Dibert said. In some instances, locations of some functionals, such as the medics, are in evacuation areas away from hurricane states, such as Lackland AFB, Texas.

Based out of Wright-Patterson AFB, an Offutt AFB, Neb., OC-135B aircraft began conducting flights Sept. 1 to capture essential aerial imagery for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to base officials. Wright-Patterson has the only U.S. government facility dedicated to processing and duplicating such imagery, which is being used to find communication lines and assess the status of roads and evacuation routes from New Orleans, Biloxi and Gulf Shores, Miss. The photos also provide critical search and rescue information including identifying areas for helicopters to land. As a secondary benefit, the images collected can help officials assess damage done to Department of Defense facilities and the status of oil rigs and hospitals in New Orleans and surrounding areas.

Not all support from AFMC is contingent upon people or equipment deploying from their respective bases. For instance, the runway at Kirtland AFB, N.M., has been used for Defense Department, federal and commercial aircraft to stop long enough to deliver evacuees, and to transport equipment or other personnel.

Lodging personnel at Eglin AFB, Fla., a base well-versed in hurricane response, as well as Robins AFB, Ga., have provided nearly 1,400 bed spaces for both Katrina evacuees and FEMA personnel.

Overseeing all of this activity has been AFMC's Crisis Action Team, which stood up Sept.1. It serves as the staff arm of the command's battle staff, a body of AFMC decision makers. For this operation, named Katrina Relief Ops, Lt. Gen. Terry Gabreski, AFMC vice commander, led the battle staff.

For the first 72 hours, the CAT was a daily 24-hour operation, with all directorates represented. September 5, Col. Frank Albanese, AFMC CAT director, stepped down many CAT directorates to a 12-hour daytime operation with telephone standby through the nighttime.

"Typically, we stand-up the CAT to assist a base through a crisis," Colonel Albanese said. "In the case of Katrina, we're here to help out the entire Gulf Coast region.

"We are pre-positioned to respond to requests from the field, be it with people or equipment," said Colonel Albanese, who is Chief, Command and Control, Contingency Operations and Plans Division, HQ AFMC Directorate of Operations. "Or, we facilitate battle staff directives to make jobs of the folks at base level easier to carry out."

One such battle staff directive

One example of a battle staff directive was the decision over the weekend to ensure any displaced Defense Department personnel would not be turned away at any AFMC base entry gate, Colonel Albanese said.

"These people have been through so much, the last thing we want is for any Air Force member to show up at an AFMC gate and receive a hard time about getting on base where they can find some shelter and comfort."

As such, the directive was compiled in the CAT and presented to and approved by General Gabreski.

Directed to AFMC installation commanders, the directive asked for "compassionate assistance to these displaced DoD personnel." Commanders were directed to ensure procedures were in place to provide immediate assistance to these people, beginning with Security Forces, Lodging and Family Support. For instance, when evacuees arrive at AFMC base gates, a process to accept personnel without proper identification should be in place. At Lodging, any displaced DoD persons are to be treated as a Priority 1 for placement into billeting, the only exception being long-term student guests. Family Support Centers are to have in-processing procedures, as well.

Still need Air Force information?

For military and civilian Airmen who still have questions about Katrina and her impact, the Air Force Personnel Center Web site can help. Located at www.afpc.randolph.af.mil , the Web site contains information on entitlements for Air Force Airmen affected by the hurricane, such as limited evacuation allowances and expenses for lodging, transportation, meals and incidentals. Click on the "Hurricane Katrina" tab. The AFPC Readiness Center can be contacted by calling toll free at (800) 435-9941.

How you can help

Just about every American in a position to help hurricane disaster victims seems to be doing so - be that help in the form of clothing, equipment, food, time or money. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Air Force Aid Society has established a nationwide relief fund to help Air Force families affected. According to the AFAS, monetary donations may be made by check or credit card.

Credit card donations may be made by calling 1-703-607-3073 or 1-800-769-8951 or by a secure online credit card form located on the Air Force Aid Society Web site: http://www.afas.org. Checks should be made out to the Air Force Aid Society and reference the hurricane relief fund.

"Due to the overwhelming number of requests from individuals who want to help, establishing the relief fund will allow us to track contributions and disbursements donated for this purpose," said retired Lt. Gen. John D. Hopper, Jr., Air Force Aid Society chief executive officer and former vice commander of Air Education and Training Command.

In addition to receiving donations, the AFAS is also ready to help individuals who have been affected by the hurricane. If you need assistance, please visit any Air Force Aid Society office or contact the Web site or phone number above.

(Joel Fortner, 88th ABW Public Affairs, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, Monica Morales, 96th ABW/ PA, Eglin AFB, Fla., and the Secretary of the Air Force, Office of Public Affairs contributed to this article.)