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Rescue team saves hundreds from Hurricane Harvey

Rescue teams from the 920th Rescue Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, rescue stranded victims trapped by flooding from Hurricane Harvey Aug. 31, 2017 in Beaumont, Texas. The 920th RQW deployed roughly 90 Citizen Airmen, three Pave Hawks and two HC-130Ns in support of Air Force Northern’s search and rescue mission for FEMA disaster relief efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Lindsey Maurice)

Rescue teams from the 920th Rescue Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, rescue stranded victims trapped by flooding from Hurricane Harvey Aug. 31, 2017 in Beaumont, Texas. The 920th RQW deployed roughly 90 Citizen Airmen, three Pave Hawks and two HC-130Ns in support of Air Force Northern’s search and rescue mission for FEMA disaster relief efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Lindsey Maurice)

Hurricane Harvey relief efforts

Chief Master Sgt. Michael Ziegler, 308th Rescue Squadron pararescueman, helps a Hurricane Harvey victim out of an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter Aug. 30, 2017 near Port Arthur, Texas. The wing deployed more than 90 Air Force Reservists, three HH-60 Pave Hawks and two HC-130Ns to Texas in support of Air Force Northern's search and rescue mission for FEMA disaster relief. The 920th RQW is located at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. (Courtesy photo)

Rescue Airmen assist with Hurricane Harvey relief effort

Hurricane Harvey victims board a 920th Rescue Wing HC-130N bound for Dallas, Texas, Sept. 1, 2017 in Beaumont, Texas. The Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, based crew made time between aerial refuelings to assist the roughly 30 victims in getting to bigger collection point. Roughly 90 Airmen with the 920th RQW deployed to Texas along with three HH-60 Pave Hawks and two HC-130N Kings in support of Air Force Northern’s search and rescue mission for FEMA disaster relief efforts. (U.S. AIr Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Lindsey Maurice)

Rescue Airmen assist with Hurricane Harvey relief effort

Air Force reservists with the 920th Rescue Wing and other rescue workers help Hurricane Harvey victims out of an HC-130N Sept. 1, 2017 in Dallas, Texas. Just over 90 Airmen with the 920th RQW deployed to Texas along with three HH-60 Pave Hawks and two HC-130N Kings in support of Air Force Northern’s search and rescue mission for FEMA disaster relief efforts. (U.S. AIr Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Lindsey Maurice)

Hurricane Harvey

Master Sgt. Mark Victor, 39th Rescue Squadron instructor loadmaster, talks to aircrew members onboard a HH-60 Pave Hawk from the 106th Rescue Wing, while they receive in-flight fuel during a sortie in support of Hurricane Harvey relief efforts over Texas, Aug. 30, 2017. Hurricane Harvey formed in the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall in southeastern Texas, bringing record flooding and destruction to the region. U.S. military assets supported FEMA as well as state and local authorities in rescue and relief efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Keith James)

A 920th HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter crew refuels from a wing HC-130P/N King refueler in-between rescuing victims from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Texas August 30, 2017. Approximately 94 Citizen Airmen have joined forces with their northern neighbors at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, the 23rd Rescue Wing, and are operating out of College Station, Texas to rescue people affected by the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in support of Air Force’s Northern search and rescue mission for FEMA disaster relief efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Citizen Airmen maintenance crews from the 920th Rescue Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, work on an HC-130P/N King refueler to allow it to get airborne for rescuing victims from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Texas August 30, 2017. Approximately 94 Citizen Airmen have joined forces with their northern neighbors at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, the 23rd Rescue Wing, and are operating out of College Station, Texas to rescue people affected by the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in support of Air Force’s Northern search and rescue mission for FEMA disaster relief efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Reserve Airmen save lives after Hurricane Harvey relief effort

A Hurricane Harvey victim takes a moment to photograph her 920th Rescue Wing and other military rescuers with her mother in front of a HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter Aug. 31, 2017 in Beaumont, Texas. The 920th Rescue Wing deployed roughly 90 Citizen Airmen, three Pave Hawks and two HC-130Ns in support of Air Force Northern’s search and rescue mission for FEMA disaster relief efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Lindsey Maurice)

Rescue teams from the 920th Rescue Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, rescue stranded victims trapped by flooding from Hurricane Harvey Aug. 31, 2017 in Beaumont, Texas. The 920th RQW deployed roughly 90 Citizen Airmen, three Pave Hawks and two HC-130Ns in support of Air Force Northern’s search and rescue mission for FEMA disaster relief efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Lindsey Maurice)

Rescue teams from the 920th Rescue Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, rescue stranded victims trapped by flooding from Hurricane Harvey Aug. 31, 2017 in Beaumont, Texas. The 920th RQW deployed roughly 90 Citizen Airmen, three Pave Hawks and two HC-130Ns in support of Air Force Northern’s search and rescue mission for FEMA disaster relief efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Lindsey Maurice)

Reserve Citizen Airmen Staff Sgt.Gregg Forshaw, 308th Rescue Squadron pararescuemen, 920th Rescue Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, gets a child to safely to his helicopter August 30, 2017, while flying Hurricane Harvey relief missions with his rescue team in and around Port Arthur, Texas (Courtesy photo)

Reserve Citizen Airmen Staff Sgt.Gregg Forshaw, 308th Rescue Squadron pararescuemen, 920th Rescue Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, gets a child to safely to his helicopter August 30, 2017, while flying Hurricane Harvey relief missions with his rescue team in and around Port Arthur, Texas (Courtesy photo)

Hurricane Harvey relief effort
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Staff Sgt. Gregg Forshaw, middle, and Master Sgt. Brandon Daugherty, right, 308th Rescue Squadron, help Hurricane Harvey victims onto an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter Aug. 30, 2017 in Port Arthur, Texas. The wing deployed more than 90 Air Force Reservists, three HH-60 Pave Hawks and two HC-130Ns to Texas in support of Air Force Northern's search and rescue mission for FEMA disaster relief. The 920th RQW is located at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. (Courtesy photo)

Reserve rescue Airmen assist with Hurricane Harvey relief
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Maintenance crews with the 920th Rescue Wing prepare an HH-60 Pave Hawk for a rescue mission in support of Hurricane Harvey Aug. 29, 2017 at Easterwood Airport, College Station, Texas. The wing deployed more than 90 Air Force Reservists, three HH-60 Pave Hawks and two HC-130Ns to Texas in support of Air Force Northern's search and rescue mission for FEMA disaster relief. The 920th RQW is located at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Lindsey Maurice)

Aircraft maintainers from the 920th Rescue Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, work at getting an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter airport so crews can go rescue stranded people from the floodwaters in Texas. Approximately 94 Citizen Airmen have joined forces with their northern neighbors at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, the 23rd Rescue Wing, and are operating out of College Station, Texas to rescue people affected by the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in support of Air Force’s Northern search and rescue mission for FEMA disaster relief efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Aircraft maintainers from the 920th Rescue Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, work at getting an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter airport so crews can go rescue stranded people from the floodwaters in Texas. Approximately 94 Citizen Airmen have joined forces with their northern neighbors at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, the 23rd Rescue Wing, and are operating out of College Station, Texas to rescue people affected by the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in support of Air Force’s Northern search and rescue mission for FEMA disaster relief efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Senior Airman Davy Brinkmann, 920th Rescue Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, special missions aviations specialist, gets sight on a fellow pararescuemen below as they prepare to hoist two stranded victims of Hurricane Harvey Aug. 31, 2017 from Beaumont, Texas. The 920th RQW deployed roughly 90 Citizen Airmen, three Pave Hawks and two HC-130Ns in support of Air Force Northern’s search and rescue mission for FEMA disaster relief efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Lindsey Maurice)
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Senior Airman Davy Brinkmann, 920th Rescue Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, special missions aviations specialist, gets sight on a fellow pararescuemen below as they prepare to hoist two stranded victims of Hurricane Harvey Aug. 31, 2017 from Beaumont, Texas. The 920th RQW deployed roughly 90 Citizen Airmen, three Pave Hawks and two HC-130Ns in support of Air Force Northern’s search and rescue mission for FEMA disaster relief efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Lindsey Maurice)

Rescue Airmen assist with Hurricane Harvey relief effort
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Maj. Rich Erica, 920th Rescue Wing HC-130N navigator, directs a helicopter air-to-air refueling mission as part of the wing’s Hurricane Harvey relief efforts Sept. 1, 2017 near Beaumont, Texas. Roughly 90 Airmen with the 920th RQW deployed to Texas along with three HH-60 Pave Hawks and two HC-130N Kings in support of Air Force Northern’s search and rescue mission for FEMA disaster relief efforts. (U.S. AIr Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Lindsey Maurice)

Rescue Airmen assist with Hurricane Harvey relief effort
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Rich Moore, 920th Rescue Wing HC-130N copilot, conducts helicopter air-t-air refueling missions as as part of the wing’s Hurricane Harvey relief efforts Sept. 1, 2017 near Beaumont, Texas. Roughly 90 Airmen with the 920th RQW deployed to Texas along with three HH-60 Pave Hawks and two HC-130N Kings in support of Air Force Northern’s search and rescue mission for FEMA disaster relief efforts. (U.S. AIr Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Lindsey Maurice)

Hurricane Harvey relief efforts
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Master Sgt. Mark Victor, 39th Rescue Squadron instructor loadmaster, peers out a window onboard a HC-130P/N during a sortie in support of Hurricane Harvey relief efforts over Texas, Aug. 30, 2017. Hurricane Harvey formed in the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall in southeastern Texas, bringing record flooding and destruction to the region. U.S. military assets supported FEMA as well as state and local authorities in rescue and relief efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Keith James)

Hurricane Harvey
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A HH-60G Pave Hawk from the 106th Rescue Wing recieves in-flight fuel from a refueling drouge attached the wing of a HC-130P/N from the 920th Rescue Wing from Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., over Texas, Aug. 30, 2017. Hurricane Harvey formed in the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall in southeastern Texas, bringing record flooding and destruction to the region. U.S. military assets supported FEMA as well as state and local authorities in rescue and relief efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Keith James)

Rescue Airmen assist with Hurricane Harvey relief effort
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Master Sgt. Robert Kurzen, 920th Rescue Wing HC-130N loadmaster, assists Hurricane Harvey vicitms Sept. 1, 2017 after his Patrick Air Force Base, Florida-based crew transported them to Dallas, Texas. . Just over 90 Airmen with the 920th RQW deployed to Texas along with three HH-60 Pave Hawks and two HC-130N Kings in support of Air Force Northern’s search and rescue mission for FEMA disaster relief efforts. (U.S. AIr Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Lindsey Maurice)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- One of the biggest natural disasters in U.S. history, Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm, devastated Texas in a matter of hours on Aug. 25, 2017. With flood waters surging and families and pets trapped in homes, buildings, and vehicles, the 920th Rescue Wing was called into action.

“We carry a lot of unique skillsets and experience that made our crews a critical part of the rescue effort,” said Col. Michael LoForti, 920th Operations Group commander. “Some of our folks participated with Hurricane Katrina relief in 2005, where we rescued 1043 people. That experience, along with our night rescue capability provided a niche that most local and state officials did not possess.”

Roughly 90 Airmen, two HC-130Ns King aerial refueling aircraft and three HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters deployed to Texas Aug. 28, and began flying missions out of the Easterwood Airport, College Station, Texas, the following day.

“Launching operations within two hours from arriving to a deployment is just incredible,” said LoForti. “Within 45 minutes after launching, the 301st Rescue Squadron was hoisting survivors to safety.”

Within four days, the helicopter and Guardian Angel teams rescued 200 people, 21 dogs and 5 cats, while the 39th RQS crews transported 35 hurricane victims from Beaumont to Dallas, conducted 20 helicopter air-to-air refuelings that enabled helicopter and GA crews to remain on scene longer, and served as the airborne mission commander coordinating 16 rescue assets from six different agencies and providing sole direct communication for vital 911 calls.

“The work our team put forth is remarkable,” said LoForti. “What they accomplished doesn’t just happen. That happens because of the people who believe in what they do and work hard to stay current and qualified to perform the mission. You also need a support structure at home station to get us out the door. I’m so proud of everyone.”

Lt. Col. Michael Walsh, 301st RQS commander, noted that while the entire rescue effort was one for the books, watching the night crews overcome so many obstacles with much success was especially impressive. The 301st RQS was the only helicopter unit based out of College Station flying 24-hour operations.

From heights up to 180 feet above, “imagine low visibility, rain, 15-20-knot gusts, power lines everywhere and working the hoist, wearing night vision goggles for 10 hours straight,” said Walsh. “Despite the odds against them, they still made tons of rescues. This speaks to the high level of skill and experience we have on our team.”

The 308th RQS pararescuemen also found their recent swiftwater training was invaluable as they fought surging flood water during many of their rescues. While most of their searches ended in success, some circumstances proved grave.

On one of the night crew’s first shifts, they spent roughly two hours searching for two amateur boat rescuers who overturned when they hit a bridge in the surging flood waters.

“The police officer told us that on a normal day you look down from the bridge and it’s a good 45 feet to the top of the water,” recalled Joe Montero, 301st RQS special mission aviator, “at that point it was so high it was slapping the side of the bridge. There were four boaters in all. One made it onto the bridge, one got caught in a tree and unfortunately we were never able to locate the other two.”

With a diminishing gas tank and others in need of rescue, the crew was thanked for their effort and cleared to help other hurricane victims.

Montero, like many members of the Harvey team is a full timer; however, a portion of the team was made up of traditional reservists, whose civilian employers were understanding enough to let them take off of work on short notice with orders that reflected up to 30 days.

Chief Jospeh LaSata, Rockledge Fire Department and Police Department public safety director, said he was proud of the work that one of his firefighters, Senior Airman Davy Brinkmann, 301st RQS SMA, did during Hurricane Harvey.

“We’re extremely proud of Davy both for his efforts to keep our city safe as a fireman, but also when he’s called upon to serve our country in situations such as Harvey,” LaSata said. “It did us all proud to see him rescuing people from rooftops and just reaffirms what kind of quality employees we have here in the city.”

With a final day on alert status at College Station, the group headed home Sept. 3 only to find Hurricane Irma, a category 5 storm, headed their way.

“To roll from Harvey to Hurricane Evacuation to Irma operations is even more amazing,” said LoForti. “I’m honored to be a part of the 920th Rescue team.”