Montana ANG Airmen share stories from humanitarian mission

GREAT FALLS, Mont. -- A Montana Air National Guard C-130 Hercules
A civilian aircraft rests on its top at a St. Croix airport in this aerial view taken Sept. 17, 2017 from a C-130 Hercules assigned to the 120th Airlift Wing. Members of the Montana Air National Guard witnessed the devastation left behind during a mission to provide relief for Hurricane Maria. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Master Sgt. Benjamin Webb)
A civilian aircraft rests on its top at a St. Croix airport in this aerial view taken Sept. 17, 2017 from a C-130 Hercules assigned to the 120th Airlift Wing. Members of the Montana Air National Guard witnessed the devastation left behind during a mission to provide relief for Hurricane Maria. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Master Sgt. Benjamin Webb)
A civilian aircraft rests on its top at a St. Croix airport in this aerial view taken Sept. 17, 2017 from a C-130 Hercules assigned to the 120th Airlift Wing. Members of the Montana Air National Guard witnessed the devastation left behind during a mission to provide relief for Hurricane Maria. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Master Sgt. Benjamin Webb) MTANG Airmen share stories of humanitarian mission
A civilian aircraft rests on its top at a St. Croix airport in this aerial view taken Sept. 17, 2017 from a C-130 Hercules assigned to the 120th Airlift Wing. Members of the Montana Air National Guard witnessed the devastation left behind during a mission to provide relief for Hurricane Maria. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Master Sgt. Benjamin Webb)
aircraft and flight crew participated in humanitarian missions to provide relief for areas affected by Hurricane Irma and Maria September 15-28.

Maj. Nathan Young, 120th Airlift Wing Pilot and Aircraft Commander, said that the 120th AW accepted this important mission after the National Guard Bureau called out to its airlift wings to provide disaster assistance.

Young said there was no trouble in finding experienced volunteers when the wing took on the mission.

“We rounded up the sharpest crew we could because the thing about something like this is that you don’t know what we’re getting into,” Young said. “This has happened before in Puerto Rico, but not to this scale. And so we needed people who knew their job and were flexible and able to adapt.”

The crew was initially scheduled for a one-week activation to fly airlift missions to the eastern Caribbean Islands ravaged by Hurricane Irma. They began transporting United States Agency for International Development (USAID) personnel, vehicles and cargo from Puerto Rico to outlying islands.

Boats are seen shoved together and pushed on shore in this aerial view taken Sept. 17, 2017 from a C-130 Hercules assigned to the 120th Airlift Wing. Members of the Montana Air National Guard witnessed the devastation left behind during a mission to provide relief for Hurricane Maria. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Master Sgt. Benjamin Webb)
Boats are seen shoved together and pushed on shore in this aerial view taken Sept. 17, 2017 from a C-130 Hercules assigned to the 120th Airlift Wing. Members of the Montana Air National Guard witnessed the devastation left behind during a mission to provide relief for Hurricane Maria. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Master Sgt. Benjamin Webb)
Boats are seen shoved together and pushed on shore in this aerial view taken Sept. 17, 2017 from a C-130 Hercules assigned to the 120th Airlift Wing. Members of the Montana Air National Guard witnessed the devastation left behind during a mission to provide relief for Hurricane Maria. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Master Sgt. Benjamin Webb) MTANG Airmen share stories of humanitarian mission
Boats are seen shoved together and pushed on shore in this aerial view taken Sept. 17, 2017 from a C-130 Hercules assigned to the 120th Airlift Wing. Members of the Montana Air National Guard witnessed the devastation left behind during a mission to provide relief for Hurricane Maria. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Master Sgt. Benjamin Webb)

Once Hurricane Maria was upgraded to a Category 5 hurricane, Young said the crew and aircraft were evacuated to Florida, then staged to return to Puerto Rico to provide hurricane relief operations for the citizens living in the United States territory.

When the crew flew their aircraft back to Puerto Rico, the Montanans immediately witnessed the damage left in the wake of the historic storm. Boat launches were pushed inland, aircraft had been blown completely over at the airport, and the territory was without power and left in darkness.

“It was surreal,” Young said. “It was total destruction, it looked like a war zone. It was unbelievable... unbelievable.”

During the two-week activation the crew logged 16 humanitarian flights, delivered 60,000 pounds of cargo, and provided airlift for 16 critical hospital patients and 29 USAID personnel or military members. Their C-130 Hercules flight time totaled 59 hours.

C-130 Flight Engineer Master Sgt. Benjamin Webb said the Montana crew was well received by members of other Guard units or agencies they worked with during the emergency.

The devastation left behind by Hurricane Maria is seen at the St. Marteen airport from a window of a C-130 Hercules assigned to the 120th Airlift Wing Sept. 17, 2017. Members of the Montana Air National Guard witnessed the devastation left behind during a mission to provide relief for Hurricane Irma. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Master Sgt. Benjamin Webb)
The devastation left behind by Hurricane Maria is seen at the St. Marteen airport from a window of a C-130 Hercules assigned to the 120th Airlift Wing Sept. 17, 2017. Members of the Montana Air National Guard witnessed the devastation left behind during a mission to provide relief for Hurricane Irma. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Master Sgt. Benjamin Webb)
The devastation left behind by Hurricane Maria is seen at the St. Marteen airport from a window of a C-130 Hercules assigned to the 120th Airlift Wing Sept. 17, 2017. Members of the Montana Air National Guard witnessed the devastation left behind during a mission to provide relief for Hurricane Irma. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Master Sgt. Benjamin Webb) MTANG Airmen share stories of humanitarian mission
The devastation left behind by Hurricane Maria is seen at the St. Marteen airport from a window of a C-130 Hercules assigned to the 120th Airlift Wing Sept. 17, 2017. Members of the Montana Air National Guard witnessed the devastation left behind during a mission to provide relief for Hurricane Irma. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Master Sgt. Benjamin Webb)

“Amazing, absolutely amazing,” Webb said. “We go out on a mission and everyone sees that Montana tail flash, you can’t miss it. And they’re always with a smile on their face and excited to meet us. If they haven’t met us, they want us to come back. It’s just a great reputation this wing has.”

Young and Webb were joined on the humanitarian mission by C-130 Copilot Capt. Michael Tcherneshoff, Navigator Maj. Tirso Pena, Loadmasters Senior Master Sgt. Becca Carmichael and Master Sgt. Raegan Robertson, and Crew Chief Master Sgt. Luke Rankin.

Young said additional 120th AW flight crews and aircraft have been supporting hurricane relief efforts since his crew completed their mission. MTANG aircraft and crews have logged over 200 flight hours and transported over 100 tons of cargo and hundreds of personnel during the state's response to the recent storms.

“As far as our unit goes, I know there are plenty of other people willing and chomping at the bit to go,” Young said. “As soon as they say go, we’ll do it again.”