Coincidence sparks memories of storm's past|
Posted 8/29/2012 Updated 8/30/2012
by Maj. Heather Newcomb
403rd Wing Public Affairs
8/29/2012 - ELLINGTON FIELD, Texas (AFNS) -- On this date in 2005, aircrews with the Air Force Reserve's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, better known as the "Hurricane Hunters," evacuated aircraft and personnel from Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., only to turn around, flying into Hurricane Katrina as it barreled down on the Gulf Coast.
The Airmen, who left behind family, friends, and property in the storm, continued the mission with an air of uncertainty.
Seven years later, many who faced Katrina waited to see what Hurricane Isaac will leave in its wake.
Crews that flew Katrina watched as the center of Isaac bounced off the marshy coast of Louisiana and continued to dump rain into the surf causing it to swell and flood their homes, businesses and those of their friends and families.
Affecting their home base and community, this year's hurricane hit close to home and hearts for some Airmen, as they prayed for the best while continuing the mission.
"On Aug. 28, 2005, I took off from Ellington Field on the flight that would basically make the final "fix" into Katrina, bringing it to shore on the 29th," said Senior Master Sgt. Tony Hlavac, a loadmaster with the Hurricane Hunters. "Prior to departure I called family and loved ones, telling them to be safe. Then it was mission time, to do the task I'm trained and paid to do."
Hlavac found himself in a situation that seemed all too familiar to the Airman.
"Seven years later to the day, I found myself again at Ellington Field, in my final season with the Hurricane Hunters -- this time pre-flighting the final aircraft that could bring Isaac ashore in the same general area where Katrina hit," he said. "Despite the fact that our home base, friends and family were again in a hurricane's path, we know the mission must go on and we will never stop even when directly affected."
Similarly, Lt. Col. Scott Dufreche, a pilot with the Hurricane Hunters since 1986, relived the memory of Katrina when he reported for annual tour duty earlier this week and found himself deploying to Ellington Field as he had in 2005.
"The weekend I reported for duty in 2005, the squadron was a hub of activity as plans to evacuate planes were being made," Dufreche said. "That year all the basic stuff you take for granted was gone and we had to rebuild the squadron from uniforms up. As a (traditional reservist) who doesn't live in the area, it's easy for me to come in and backfill for the air reserve technicians so they can take care of their property and family.
One of the reasons the mission could continue after Katrina and today with Isaac, are the traditional reservists who live outside the local Keesler (AFB) area and who can relieve those in the squadron being affected by the storm, Dufreche said.
"There is never a shortage of volunteers who will be there to get the job done in order to take care of the community and our own," he added.
Capt. Christopher Dyke, an aerial reconnaissance weather officer for the Hurricane Hunters, spent Katrina sheltered-in-place at Keesler while on active duty.
"When you're sheltered in place there is a feeling of helplessness where you see all that is happening around you and, for various reasons, you weren't allowed or able to help," said Dyke. "Seven years later, in contrast, I'm able to actively provide support to the decision makers and also able to help my family and friends who live on the coast."
No matter what "Mother Nature" decides to bring in the form of storms during the rest of the 2012 Hurricane Season, the Hurricane Hunter crews, support personnel, and maintenance crew say they are ready.
"We love what we do, love the community surrounding Keesler and know how important our work is to those affected on the ground," said Hlavac. "Because of that, the personal sacrifice is worth it."