Citizen Airmen satisfy Texas-sized thirst

  • Published
  • By Julie Briden-Garcia
  • 136th Airlift Wing

A winter storm without a name is just chilly weather. But when the National Weather Service names it, it becomes the winter storm of a lifetime… or at least in the eyes of Texas.

February 14-20, 2021, Winter Storm Uri--the worst polar vortex to hit Texas since 1989--spread cataclysmic damage and sent temperatures plummeting to the teens and single digits for more than four million Texans. Nicknamed “Snow-mageddon” by many, Uri’s cold wave resulted in wide-spread power outages. As homes lost power and temperatures dropped, water pipes froze, and in many cases, burst, leaving Texans without useable water or the energy source to boil it to render it potable.

In coordination with the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) delivered nearly 1,300 tons of bottled water here to Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth for Central and South Texas communities without potable drinking water and likely to remain so for days or weeks to come.

Enter the Texas Air National Guard. Even before the snow and ice began to thaw, these Citizen Airmen soared into action to serve their fellow Texans.  

With props spinning in record time, the 136th Airlift Wing’s C-130H Hercules flew more than 26 missions to places as far west as Abilene and Del Rio to far south including McAllen and Corpus Christi where additional Texas Guardsmen were waiting to distribute the water to local residents in need. Other aircraft, such as C-130Js, C-17s and various rotary craft, augmented the deliveries.

Texas ANG Capt. Dave Ruthenbeck, 181th Airlift Squadron C-130H pilot, flew the mission. He said he wanted to pay it forward after having been without power or water for 35 hours himself.

“Now that I’ve got my power back, I want to help others not as fortunate,” Ruthenbeck said. “We’ve got about 35 thousand pounds of water loaded here and are headed to Austin. We’ve been flying water since Thursday (February 18) and will continue until it’s all delivered.”

Working around the clock, Texas Army and Air National Guardsmen orchestrated the delivery of more than 40,000 cases of water themselves, while working in tandem with TDEM and other agencies, first responders, county officials, and volunteers to deliver millions of bottles of water overall, plus food and other necessities to Texans in need.

Texas ANG Tech. Sgt. Joshua Smith, 181 AS loadmaster, said he wanted to find a way to help his neighbors and delivering the water was a good start.

“I love helping people,” Smith said. “People need water around the state right now and we’re doing the job and making it happen. This is the greatest job that you can have!”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott mobilized more than 300 Guardsmen locally, and in the Houston and San Antonio areas to help staff warming stations and support neighbors without power and water. The governor and TDEM stated they will continue working to ensure the federal government provides appropriate assistance to individual Texans as well as to the state and local governments.

Texans in need of disaster assistance may apply at, or call FEMA at 1-800-621-3362.