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SA reservists, medical personnel on first of big military aid flights to Houston

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A GROWING COMMUNITY OF SUPPORT

Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport will soon be home to a massive military aid effort.

While military search and rescue crews have been flying for several days, the huge cargo plane from San Antonio landing at sunset Wednesday was one of the very first aid flights, carrying water, supplies, and medical personnel to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey.

We flew in on a C-5M 'Super Galaxy,' one of the biggest planes in the world, with members of the 433rd Airlift Wing, an Air Force Reserve unit based at Joint Base San Antonio - Lackland.

Just hours before, on the flight line at Lackland, the crew had packed the belly of the plane with 80,000 pounds of water, generators, medical supplies and water.

Then 70 medical personnel from San Antonio's 59th Medical Wing stepped off buses, walked up the back ramp of the plane and climbed a steep flight of stairs into a separate cabin above the cargo.

Less than an hour later, even before the plane landed, some on board were already affected by what they were seeing out of the windows.

"IT'S JUST REALLY SAD"

"It's one thing to see it on the news, but to see it in person, it's just the mass devastation..." said Lt. Col. Mark Mulkey, Commander of the 733rd Training Squadron, and a pilot on this flight.

Mulkey and others on board also have friends and family in the Houston area.

"That's what's tough. Going to Texas A&M I have a lot of Aggie buddies that are out there on boats right now, pulling people out. So when this mission came up, I'm like, I'm going to do everything I can to get on that mission and at least do a small part."

Tech Sgt. Jay Nelson, an Air Force medic with the 59th Medical Wing told me he felt the same way when he got word he was coming to Houston. "I was excited because I knew that I was going to be helping a lot of people, to be able to contribute in some way, shape or form. And I've got family here."

STILL MANY QUESTIONS

But Nelson isn't sure just how long he and the other medical personnel from the 59th Medical Wing will be here, or exactly what they'll be doing - as they help those who have been evacuated due to the flooding.

"Probably putting people on planes and taking care of patients."

I'm told they'll be working out of a Port of Houston building in the cargo area of the airport, right across the tarmac from another commercial cargo building, where they're offloading supplies for evacuees.

And this is the same area where they may be putting evacuees on flights to facilities in other cities.

"As the floodwaters recede, we are finding that people are still in dire need, especially the elderly and infirm," said MSgt. Jarrod Blanford, of the Kentucky National Guard. "They need to get out of Houston into a safer place. So we expect these medical folks that just came in to really start amping up operations here."

As for where some of those evacuees might be going, I was told those who would be flown out - at least by military teams - would probably go to Little Rock and Fort Worth - at least at first.

But it's still too early to say just how many might be flown out, how long they would stay in another city, and whether additional destinations, like San Antonio, might be added.

THEY WERE EXPECTING THE CALL

The C5's crew and passengers had been expecting for at least a couple of days that they might be needed in Houston, but only got the official notice Wednesday morning.

"We had to make sure we had the type of supplies that they need over there. We had to make sure we an airport over there that we could land a C-5 aircraft on," said Air Force Reserve Capt. Philip Cortez, a spokesman with the 433rd. [Cortez is also a Texas State Representative for District 117 in far west and southwest Bexar County]. "There was a lot of logistics and coordination that had to be worked out. But as soon as the tasking came down, we were ready to go."

But last week, when it looked like San Antonio might be in Harvey's path, the 433rd moved the C-5's out to Fort Bliss in El Paso to make sure they wouldn't be damaged if the winds here reached more than 70 miles per hour.

"Yes, we moved all seven aircraft out, by the end of Friday we had them all over at Biggs Army Airfield in case the aftermath of the hurricane hit here in San Antonio if we had the flooding," said Col. T. K. Smith, Commander of the 433rd Airlift Wing.

"Fortunately, that did not happen, so we brought them home starting Monday and had all seven of them on our ramp by Tuesday afternoon."

JUST THE BEGINNING

Wednesday night, while it's cargo was being unloaded, the big C-5 shared a tarmac with just a couple of other military planes, a C-17 from a Texas Air National Guard unit out of Fort Worth, and a C-130 from a National Guard unit from New York.

But those I talked with all expect there will be many more military flights into Houston.

"There's going to be a lot of humanitarian effort that's coming here due to the scale of the devastation," said Lt. Col. Mulkey.

And some of those flights may include more C-5's from San Antonio.

"Yes, right now the 433rd is going to have a crew on standby every day to fly in here if need be."

I'd like to add a personal note of thanks to everyone with the 433rd and 59th. I have flown with them before on other relief missions and can tell you they are tireless. It was great to see some of the same people who I flew with into Sri Lanka in early 2005 in the aftermath of a devastating tsunami. Thank you all for your service and your dedication. I'll be posting more of the video and photos I shot soon on my facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/randy.beamer.


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