JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. --
During what will likely be remembered as one of the fiercest hurricane seasons in a century, the Caribbean island of Dominica was devastated by Hurricane Maria, which made landfall in mid-September as a Category 5 hurricane.
In response, the 62nd Airlift Wing deployed members of the 62nd Aerial Port Squadron to support air mobility operations for hurricane relief in neighboring Martinique, managing aerial port operations to and from hurricane stricken areas.
“We traveled to Martinique in support of the island of Dominica,” said Tech. Sgt. Henry Achilles, 62nd APS air transportation standardization evaluation program. “Martinique had not been hit badly by Hurricane Maria, while Dominica had been all but destroyed. Nine of every 10 buildings had been leveled there; trees had no leaves or branches, but looked like sticks shooting from the ground. It was unreal.”
While in the Caribbean, Achilles and a team of 62nd APS members including Senior Airman Leonel Cardenas-Lopez, Senior Airman Bridger Stampe-Gerstenslager, Airman 1st Class Connor Adams and Airman 1st Class Kyle Knight, were tasked with the responsibility of redeploying the joint task force that had been dispatched to the islands in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
“Our primary mission was to assist with the redeployment of Joint Task Force Leeward Islands’ cargo and personnel, as well as transporting any last-minute supplies to this island of Dominica,” Achilles explained. “Each day, we met with our Army counterparts in the French military side of the airport which we were allowed to share. From there, we planned the logistical redeployment of all cargo that needed airlift to the United States ensuring it was air worthy and conducting joint inspections.”
Proving ‘one team, one fight’ is more mentality than simple slogan, Airmen worked alongside service men and women from the Army, the Navy and the Marine Corps to bring relief to the people of Dominica.
“It is always interesting to see how other services interact amongst themselves, with sister services and between officer and enlisted ranks,” Achilles said. “I have worked joint missions many times before, but in this particular environment you couldn’t tell that everyone was from different services. We came together to work hard and get the mission done. That’s what being part of a joint task force is all about.”
When the 62nd APS headed for home, they were the last crew of United States service members to depart the island. Though their 10-day role in the mission was relatively brief, the temporary duty left a lasting impression on Achilles.
“In spite of the hardships the people of Dominica were facing, they were friendly and welcoming, grateful for whatever supplies we could provide,” the technical sergeant said. “It’s nice to do the hard work and see the immediate, tangible reward.”
In addition to aid rendered to the island of Dominica, Team McChord Airmen flew 15 airlift missions in support of hurricane relief efforts in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico including more than 920,000 pounds of cargo and 270 passengers and aeromedical patients airlifted by means of C-17 Globemaster III, a report from the 62nd Airlift Wing detailed.
The 62nd AW also flew the first C-17 into St. Thomas following Hurricane Irma, airlifting 50 Federal Emergency Management Agency Urban Search and Rescue personnel, ground equipment, and supplies to the badly damaged island.
“I had never been part of a humanitarian aid mission before,” Achilles said. “I would love to be part of one again. Seeing conditions on the island headed in the right direction after such devastation was extremely rewarding.”