Alaska Guardsmen pull Texans from floodwaters
The Alaska Air National Guard 212TH Rescue Squadron sent 14 Pararescuemen down to Texas for Hurricane Harvey relief. The Guardsmen arrived on Tuesday and joined the rescue efforts Wednesday, using inflatable boats to navigate flooded communities.
Major Christian Braunlich, a combat rescue officer, said the conditions they’ve been working in have been just like what’s been shown in pictures and on television.
"Water up to street signs, pulling people out of second story windows and things of that nature,” he said.
They’ve been busy over the last couple days, working long hours but with a lot of success.
“At last count, we'd picked up roughly 41 people, one dog and we rescued a horse as well,” said Braunlich.
In Alaska, the 21th usually uses planes and helicopters for search and rescue missions, making this deployment a big change in tactics.
"We have done water rescues in Alaska in the past, but they're of a much smaller nature than these,” said Braunlich.
212th Commander, Lt. Col. Matthew Komatsu, said saving lives is the focus, but this is also good training for the Pararescuemen. The sheer number of water rescues and the size of the disaster area are challenges they don’t normally face.
"Everything gets complicated, so basic infrastructure, communications, movements plans, all that kind of stuff,” said Komatsu, adding the complications are thing the Guardsmen can handle. “That's what we do. We go into uncertain situations and we bring order into the chaos."
"It's different in terms of sheer numbers and also, in some ways, in terms of how we're doing it but the final effect, what we're doing to help every individual person that we're helping out is the same,” said Braunlich.
That's part of the mission of the National Guard: to help other states in need. Texas Governor Greg Abbot called on the Alaska Guard and others to help as the disaster unfolded.
"This is what we train for everyday and we're ready to execute these missions everyday so we're just proud that, when called upon, we're ready to execute and that we can help some of the people and hopefully alleviate some of the suffering,” said 176th Wing Commander Col. Steve deMilliano.
Whether it's in Alaska or Texas, it's the lives saved that matter.
"To be able to come here and help out the people of Texas, it's a great deal and it's something we love doing. It really adds a little bit of verve to our job,” said Braunlich.
Komatsu said there’s no timeframe for the deployment. The Pararesceumen will stay in Texas as long as they’re needed.