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Air Force gets 400 medical workers to Florida for Hurricane Irma relief effort

By WILLIAM HOWARD | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 11, 2017

The U.S. Air Force has sent more than 400 medical personnel to Orlando, Fla., for Hurricane Irma relief efforts.

“When the world presents a challenge, our airmen adjust to meet need and do what it takes to accomplish the mission,” Gen. Carlton Everhart II, Air Mobility Command commander, said in a statement. “Our airmen are mission ready and prepared to help others impacted by Hurricane Irma while meeting worldwide needs.”

Three C-17s from Joint Base Charleston, S.C., and Dover Air Force Base, Del., delivered more than 300 doctors and nurses.

A C-130J assigned to the 41st Airlift Squadron from Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., carried more than 100 total personnel from both the Public Health Service’s rapid deployment force and the Dept. of Health and Human Services’ disaster medical assistance teams. The teams include members from Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio.

The Air Force responded to a request from HHS, which is coordinating medical support to states and territories affected by one of the largest hurricanes in recent history.

“I had no idea I would ever be doing anything like this, or be a part of a national effort to help out in hurricane relief,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Rob Lummus, a loadmaster with the North Charleston-based 15th Airlift Squadron, in a statement. “It’s been pretty amazing to watch all the different pieces of the puzzle with all the groups working together.”

The planes landed just before midnight on Saturday in Orlando, quickly offloaded the health care workers and their gear to nearby waiting buses and lifted off, just as rain from Hurricane Irma’s storm front began to pelt the windshield.

At least four deaths were reported in Florida after the storm’s arrival on Sunday. At least 27 people have been confirmed dead in parts of the Caribbean affected by Irma.

The hurricane made landfall in Cuba on Friday evening after flattening homes throughout the islands of Barbuda, St Martin and the British and U.S. Virgin Islands in the northeastern Caribbean.

Doctors, registered nurses, midlevel technicians, a dentist and an infectious disease specialist were among the personnel who prepared for relief efforts.

“It’s a joint effort,” said nurse paramedic Jessica Picanzo. “We received a notification 12 hours ago and now we’re in the air. We’re able to respond so quickly because of our military partners.”

Additionally, Northern Command deployed three vessels — the USS Wasp and USS Kearsarge amphibious assault ships and the USS Oak Hill dock landing ship — to the U.S Virgin Islands with 20 Marine Corps and Navy helicopters to transport people and supplies.

howard.william@stripes.com

Twitter: @William16058388

Capt. Aileen Renolayan, a U.S. Public Health Service Rapid Deployment Force 5 member, boards a C-130J at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport headed to Orlando International Airport, Fla., for Hurricane Irma relief efforts, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017.

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