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Airmen in place for Hurricane Wilma relief

10/24/2005 - TYNDALL AFB, Fla. (AFPN)  -- As Hurricane Wilma rips through south Florida, Airmen from 1st Air Force are already in place today to help storm victims.

The rest of 1st Air Force is ready to respond, if asked to provide resources for Wilma relief efforts, said 1st AF commander Maj. Gen. M. Scott Mayes.

“If we get the call, we’re well prepared and ready to respond,” he said. “We’re committed to saving lives -- and supporting those who save lives -- as well as relieving suffering and mitigating extensive damage.”

It is too early to predict if the Air Force will have to provide services in the storm’s aftermath. The storm made landfall near Cape Roman, Fla., as a Category 3 storm. But National Hurricane Center in Miami has since downgraded it to a Category 2 storm.

As of 9 a.m. today, maximum sustained winds were near 110 mph, with higher gusts. Center officials say tornadoes are possible over portions of the central and southern Florida Peninsula and the Florida Keys.

Experts predict the storm will leave Florida later today.

In preparation for Wilma, the Air Force sent emergency preparedness liaison officers here, the Florida Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee; the Federal Emergency Management Agency Regional Response Coordination Center in Atlanta; and the FEMA National Response Coordination Center and Joint Director of Military Support in Washington, D.C.

“EPLOs provide the face of the Air Force to FEMA and the state emergency operation centers,” said Col. Jeff Theulen, an EPLO deployed here from Iowa.

Mostly reservists, there are liaison officers assigned to each state and 10 FEMA regional offices. They come from a wide range of career fields, including air operations, logistics, medicine, security forces and public affairs. During Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, for example, the Air Force deployed 67 EPLOs to 18 local, state and federal agencies.

The liaisons are involved in every step of the support process, “from conception to execution,” the colonel said. They provide Air Force support to civil authorities at every level, including local, county, state and national.

“EPLOs arrive sooner and faster than anyone else,” Colonel Theulen said.

Additionally, 1st AF has pre-positioned an air component coordination element at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, to support 5th Army should officials establish a joint task force to help with recovery operations.

General Mayes said areas in which the Air Force can help most include reconnaissance to support damage assessment, search and rescue, air mobility, logistical support, medical support and communications.

During Hurricane Katrina relief operations, the 1st AETF established air expeditionary groups at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, La.; Alexandria, La.; Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.; Jackson, Miss.; and Maxwell AFB, Ala. AEGs supported forward-deployed Airmen on the edge of the disaster area.

America’s Air Force stands ready to answer the call for emergency assistance in this potential crisis, General Mayes said.

“Our total force -- active, Air Guard and Air Force Reserve units -- using a mix of air support, transportable hospitals and logistics and vital services is superbly trained and well equipped to respond to the nation’s call to help for as long as we are needed,” the general said.



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