136th Airlift Wing contributes locally with Hurricane Ike support

U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Erica Darnell and Technical Sergeant Tammy Owens from 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard, Fort Worth stand by as shelter management assistants for  hurricane evacuees at the Dallas Convention Center, Dallas TX September 14, 2008.  (Air Force photo By: TSgt Charles Hatton) CLEARED

U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Erica Darnell and Technical Sergeant Tammy Owens from 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard, Fort Worth stand by as shelter management assistants for hurricane evacuees at the Dallas Convention Center, Dallas TX September 14, 2008. (Air Force photo By: TSgt Charles Hatton) CLEARED

September 16, 2008 -- DALLAS, TX - - Approximately thirty members from the 136th Airlift Wing arrived at the Dallas Convention Center Saturday afternoon just days after assisting In the evacuation of special needs patients from the path of Hurricane Ike in southeast Texas. With three hurricanes hitting Texas or its borders in a two month span the 136 AW, at a moment's notice, has provided assistance to help the local community with relief from the storms. 

Though most of the relief efforts have been evacuations or assisting with supply distribution, this time the 136 AW was helping in another way. This mission had them working in conjuntion with the Texas State Guard assisting with shelter management at the Dallas Convention Center. The Texas State Guard is different than the Texas Air National Guard because they are strictly volunteers for the Governor of Texas. 

"The State Guard always works with the 136 AW during drill weekends in civil engineering, communications, maintenance, etc. so it's great they are working with us here," said Lt Col Larry M. Bosher, group commander 436th Air Support Group. "In a way we are providing the 136 AW folks, on-the-job training, OJT in shelter management, so eventually they will take over and do the operation on their own." 

"When we arrived here we designated noncommissioned officers in charge, NCOIC to help be the liaison between the 136 AW and the Texas State Guard," said Master Sgt. Richard Alva, staff accountant, 136th Airlift Wing Finance. "It has been a good experience; we enjoy working with the State Guard." 

Most of the Sate Guard members arrived Wednesday to assist in setting up the shelters for the evacuees.  Small groups of 136 AW members and State guardsmen are in charge of posts throughout the shelter around the clock. They are split into three shifts, advised Lt Col Bosher. 

Once the evacuees arrived either by bus or their own vehicle, they were put in a staging area where they were given a wrist band for accountability, registered and processed with the Red Cross, who also provided cots, blankets and pillows for them. 

The shelter just wasn't a place for the evacuees to sleep, other services were provided during their time at the Convention Center while they await to go back home. Such services are a medical facility for anyone who feels sick or has other medical needs, and has doctors, nurses and even Dallas EMT to examine the patients; there is of course shower facilities and diaper changing areas that is constantly sanitized throughout the day. 

Phone services were also provided for those that needed their cell phones charged and if evacuees didn't have a phone they were allowed to make a 15 minute free phone call per day; there were computers with internet connections for them to also use 15 minutes at a time. 

Some of the recreation activities included, watching the foot ball games on televisions that are placed throughout the shelter; playing a game of basketball in which the two hoops were provided by the Dallas Park and Recreation Center; a game of soccer that was sectioned off in the shelter; and of course an area for the kids that was also sectioned off with the colorful cushioned padding on the floor and had several games, arts and crafts activities. Red Cross counselors and Texas State Guard chaplains were also on hand to provide counseling. 

The evacuees will receive three meals a day in a dining area, and are permitted to go outside the shelter but have to sign in and out of the Convention Center to keep track of the evacuees," said Lt Col. Bosher. 

"It is almost like a small city within a city," said Lt Col Bosher. 

"The number of evacuees can change every hour, we can have from 900 to maybe 1200 at one time, the maximum capacity the facility can house is approximately 1400 people," said Lt Col Bosher. "The reason for the changing numbers is that we don't force them to stay if they don't want to, so some leave while others are arriving from smaller shelters or hotels." 

The only thing that can be difficult for the evacuees is waiting to return home. "Most of them are from Houston and they always ask us when they can go back home. There is a lot of flooding and no power in the area, and it is hard to let them know that it isn't safe to go back home yet based on the information we receive," said Felicia D. Stone, volunteer Red Cross. She has been helping at the Convention Center since Saturday with welfare checks of the evacuees' family members. 

Most of the evacuees are courteous and seem to show respect to the guardsmen too, stated Senior Airman Octavio C. DeMina, crew chief, 136th AMXS. "It is sad though, I heard one evacuee say he was at this very shelter during Katrina with his family and he moved in the Houston area only to be back to the same place three years later." 

Other agencies should also be recognized that work alongside with our guardsmen to assist in putting this operation together to include a hybrid of city employees and volunteers from the Dallas Police Department, Dallas Fire Department, Salvation Army, and the Dallas Emergency Management team. 

The incident Commander at the Dallas Convention Center, Kwa heri Heard, emergency management specialist, Dallas Office of Emergency Management was working hard and nonstop to ensure everything was organized, running smoothly and also taking care of the evacuees as well as the volunteers, 136 AW members, State guardsmen and Dallas city employees. 

Ms. Heard remembers working during Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Gustav and was happy about how excellent things were running. "This operation is more of a lessons learned from last week during the Hurricane Gustav relief, such as having more activities and things to do for both the adults and the children during their time in the shelter; and realizing that our Dallas Park and Recreation Center could assist in those activities, so the department provided donate two basketball hoops." 

The Dallas Police Department, has approximately 50 officers that help out each shift according to Sergeant Vince J. Aurentz, who works in the Strategic Development Division for DPD. He is impressed on how well things are going with hardly any problems. 

The Dallas Fire Department has approximately 15 personnel helping out with safety, inspections, and hazards as well as having their medical technicians on site. "This has been a smooth operation that is very organized," agrees Battalion Chief Kenneth L. Cullons. 

The Red Cross volunteer strength is about 450 people at the Convention Center," said Randy Lavonn, volunteer Red Cross. 

Still there is numerous volunteers and city employees that are working around the clock helping the evacuees at the Convention Center 

The136th Airlift Wing members all have the same mentality alongside their local partners in helping the community. "We do what we are expected to do, but are willing do it," said Technical Sgt. Erica L. Darnell, optometry technician 136th Medical Group. 

"I am always willing to volunteer," agrees Technical Sgt. Tammy P.Owens, medical technician, 136th Medical Group.