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437th AW crew provides quick-response relief following Hurricane Maria

Senior Airman Kenny Phonsyry, 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, performs preflight checks at Joint Base Charleston, S.C., Sept. 23, 2017. The 14th Airlift Squadron, 437th Airlift Wing, flew a mobile air traffic control tower, food and water to St. Thomas, Virgin Islands in support of Hurricane Maria relief efforts.

Senior Airman Kenny Phonsyry, 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, performs preflight checks at Joint Base Charleston, S.C., Sept. 23, 2017. The 14th Airlift Squadron flew a mobile air traffic control tower, food and water to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands in support of Hurricane Maria relief efforts.

ST. THOMAS, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS (AFNS) -- Members of the 14th Airlift Squadron at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency completed a humanitarian mission in support of Hurricane Maria to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Sept. 23, 2017.

The mission provided the islands with an FAA mobile air traffic control tower with an instrument landing system and FAA air traffic controllers. Additionally, the mission delivered 13,000 pounds of food and water.

“This mission is providing humanitarian support to areas in the Virgin Islands affected by multiple hurricanes,” said Senior Airman Mark Darnell, 14th AS loadmaster. “Missions like this one are what I signed up for. Its an incredible feeling to bring relief to people in need.”

Hurricane Maria sustained winds in excess of 90 miles per hour when it passed west of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, Sept. 21, causing flooding throughout the islands. The air traffic control tower at the Cyril E. King Airport in St. Thomas was damaged due to the flooding.

“The existing tower sustained quite a bit of water damage, and at this point, it is not a safe environment for the controllers to utilize,” said Bruce Williams, FAA electronic engineer. “This tower facilitates air traffic control and directs aircraft on the ramp and airspace. The advantage of having a tower instead of sitting at a table tracking everything is the improved communication between controllers and pilots.”

Members of the 161st Air Refueling Wing, an Air National Guard unit from Phoenix, are ensuring operations continue in St. Thomas. They are working to load and unload aircraft and manage the airfield so aircraft can get in and out as efficiently as possible. FEMA staff members distributed food and water to those on the ground supporting relief efforts after cargo was unloaded from the C-17 Globemaster III.

“When people are in trouble we are going to help if we have the resources,” said Capt. Woody Sukut, 14th AS pilot. “We’re all people. If I was in a similar situation, I hope someone would be coming to deliver the same critical supplies.”

The 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron keeps two C-17s on standby in the event an emergency mission is needed. The 437th AMXS had the aircraft ready to fly less than three hours after being alerted of the mission.

"With all the recent hurricanes, we've been all hands on deck," said Darnell. "We're actively working to make sure relief supplies get to where they need to go."

Mobility Airmen work side-by-side with joint and international partners. Whether it's delivering humanitarian aid to people in need in the Virgin Islands or transporting coalition forces to dirt strips in Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq, they get the job done together.

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