AMOS continues round-the-clock support following hurricanes in the Caribbean

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Liliana Moreno
  • 621st Contingency Response Wing Public Affairs
It’s been a busy few months for the Airmen from the 321st and 621st Air Mobility Operation Squadrons. A total of 41 AMOS Airmen have deployed to five locations supporting operations for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, providing crucial expertise for airlift, aerial refueling, and aeromedical evacuation relief operations.

When Hurricane Harvey made landfall, the AMOS rapidly responded from across the globe as many of the Airmen transitioned directly from supporting the deterrence of North Korea during Exercise Ulchi-Freedom Guardian at Osan Air Base, Korea to immediately helping organize the relief effort at the 601st Air Operations Center at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida and the Texas Air National Guard AOC in Austin, Texas. Those Airmen provided critical Command and Control for airlift and aeromedical missions that met urgent relief needs in addition to evacuation operations.

Capt. Joseph Cziko first deployed to Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, “It was a great honor to use my skills as an airlift team chief during a time of national crisis. We were in a position to provide help to countless folks and it was especially rewarding to see my inputs have a direct impact on those who needed it most. Then as soon as the ground transportation routes opened in South East Texas, we turned around direct from Hurricane Harvey relief and immediately deployed to Tyndall AFB to be in-place before Hurricane Irma made landfall.”

A team of airlifters from the two squadrons, including Cziko, deployed rapidly to the 601st AOC just days before Hurricane Irma made landfall. From the first day, those teams were planning and controlling up to 30 missions a day and ensuring Contingency Response Airmen and Emergency Air Traffic Control Teams were positioned and ready to open airfields as soon as Hurricane Irma passed.

As soon as airlift operations began to ease down for Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria struck.

“We were all worried when we saw Hurricane Maria starting to make tracks toward Puerto Rico,” Cziko said.” We knew if it made landfall as a category four or five hurricane that it would be the greatest challenge we had seen yet. Following Hurricane Maria’s landfall, operations ramped up to over thirty missions a day. The 601st AOC was a non-stop, 24-7 command and control machine. I’ve never worked so hard in a more fulfilling job in my life.”

Hurricane Maria brought challenges that had never been seen by many of the personnel involved. Unlike Hurricane’s Harvey and Irma, there were no roads to the mainland to move supplies. All of the relief operations were brought in using air or sea platforms. AMOS Airman worked hard coordinating thousands of tons of relief cargo and worked closely with the Federal Aviation Administration to provide procedural de-confliction procedures during times of limited Air Traffic control capabilities.

“We could look at the radar and at any given time could see hundreds of flights going into the affected areas,” Cziko said. “It was our job to work closely with the FAA to ensure proper spacing between aircraft was given to ensure the maximum on ground limitations would not be exceeded.”

While the team was operating in Florida, Tech. Sgt. Robert Hoag deployed as a joint airlift operations validator at the Northern Command Deployment Distribution Operations Center at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.

According to Hoag, the Federal Emergency Management Agency would send a list of capabilities that required air movement to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. From there, the tasked units would send their load plans, and the information would be put into the joint operation planning and execution system. Once a requirement was validated, the information was sent to U.S. Transportation Command and the Air Operations Centers for mission planning and execution.

Hoag said the biggest challenge the team faced was getting personnel and equipment delivered in an expeditious manner.

“Airfields were closed due to flooding or there was no ramp space to download the aircraft, that made delivering the needed equipment and personnel challenging,” Hoag said. “My role was to verify that all requested movements had all dimensional data, as well as to ensure the equipment would physically fit within the dimensions of the aircraft.”

For the 12 days Hoag was deployed to Peterson AFB, he was able to facilitate the air movement of 794 passengers and 1262.6 short tons of cargo on 57 missions. Upon completion of his mission at Northern Command, Hoag joined the team at the 601 AOC as a requirements planner where he planned 434 missions over 27 days. “It was fulfilling knowing that we were part of a team providing relief to fellow Americans.”

At the same time, Senior Airman Victoria Monfiero deployed as a mission manager with the Joint Task Force-Leeward Islands as part of Southern Command’s Joint Air Component Coordination Element. She tracked and coordinated airlift for urban search and rescue operations in the Caribbean islands along with missions to provide affected areas with pallets of meals ready-to-eat, water desalination equipment, rebuilding material and hygiene essentials.

“I joined the Air Force because I like helping people, and being able to help those in need during Hurricane Maria was an amazing experience,” Monfiero said. “What happened was very unfortunate and knowing that I was part of a team that helped save lives and helped redevelop their homes brings me so much joy.”

Although the initial response to the Hurricanes has begun to wind down, the AMOS mission continues with a team that will remain at the 601st AOC to sustain the long term relief effort over the next few months. The rest of the Airmen in the 321 and 621 AMOS remain on call to rapidly respond as command and control experts for air mobility whenever and wherever the nation calls.