Some members of the New York National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing are active guard reserve, full-time technicians and government contractors, however many are not.
The majority of the 106th Rescue Wing is comprised of citizen soldiers, often referred to as Minute Men. They are police dispatchers and officers, teachers, computer technicians, fire fighters, construction workers, wall street stock financers, doctors and even a Washington based lawyer.
But when Texas called for help, New York and many Air National Guard units throughout the country answered the call.
The 106th Rescue Wing responded in support of the Hurricane Harvey rescue and relief effort in Texas on August 26, 2017.
The 106th Wing Commander Michael W. Bank put the wing into action and within 24 hours the members of the 106th had packed two C-17 Globemaster III, from the 105th Air Wing assigned to the New York Air National Guard, with three HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, four Zodiac boats, a truck and equipment necessary to carry out the missions.
The 106th Rescue Wing also sent down an HC-130 search and rescue aircraft.
Folding three Pave Hawk helicopters and loading them onto a C-17 is no easy feat. It takes two to three hours just to fold the Pave Hawk helicopters, and two to three hours to load them into the aircraft, said Senior Airman Kenneth J. Kiefer, a helicopter crew chief with the 106th Maintenance Group.
The members of the 106th Maintenance Group worked long days and late nights under conditions that ranged from swift winds and rain to blue skies under a hot sun. However, they were up for the task.
“Our maintainers unloaded, unfolded our HH-60s in minimal time and kept both the HC-130s and HH-60s flying throughout the duration of the rescue,” said Lt. Col. Robert Siebelts, the 106th Maintenance Squadron commander. “They all stepped up and did an outstanding job.”
On the operational side, the members of the 106th had no shortage of harrowing rescues.
While rescuing a family of five, with all focus on one side of the Pave Hawk helicopter, Master Sgt. Joseph Napolitano, a special mission aviator with the 106th’s 101st Rescue Squadron, remained diligent spotting a towel and a pair of legs hanging out of a house window while he sat in position on his side of the Pave Hawk helicopter.
“Nobody saw it,” said Napolitano. “I was pretty adamant about it.”
Had it not been for Napolitano’s diligence, the crew would have thought they were deceased and left the area.
In another rescue, Senior Airman John J. Kosequat and Staff Sgt. Ryan R. Dush, both Pararescuemen with the 106th’s 103rd Rescue Squadron, and fathers to young children, rescued an infant from a home taken by flood waters.
Dush was able to secure the infant safely to his body using a babybjorn style harness, he then began doing his fatherly duties by making sure there were no pinch points or constraints that would injure the baby during the 60ft hoist to a hovering Pave Hawk helicopter.
“It was really emotional,” said Dush. “Just knowing you don’t want anything bad to happen to this small child.”
The boat crews from the 106th Rescue Wing, operating in the greater Houston area, at times went door to door, block by block, in medium to large scale evacuations. The members spent their nights in the field, sleeping in warehouses, fire departments, police departments and even an abandoned house. At best, they were able to get a cot.
“We wanted to have a minimal footprint on local resources while getting out the most for the people that needed the help,” said Maj. Sal Sferrazza, a Combat Rescue Officer with the 106th’s 103rd Rescue Squadron. “These are people’s lives. We wanted to be that lasting impact on the ground and apply our abilities.”
Although the pararescuemen are the ones that drop from helicopters, it’s important to remember that it takes a crew made up of pilots, special missions aviators, as well as pararescuemen, for the mission to be successful.
“Pilots and special mission aviators are vital to the mission,” said Maj. Glynn Weir, a Combat Rescue Officer with the 106th’s 103th Rescue Squadron. “We would never get to the spot and we could never take those patients to the hospital on a boat.”
While C-130s flew over the Houston area controlling the air traffic of helicopters in the area, back at Fort Hood, Texas, members of the 106th Communication Squadron set up a Tactical Operations Center, where Lt. Col. Geoffrey Petyak, the 106th Operations Group commander in charge of the Hurricane Harvey relief effort, ran the Rescue Coordination Center.
The Rescue Coordination Center received missions, or taskings, from Joint Operation Centers and Petyak coordinated the New York rescue forces that are in Texas in response to Hurricane Harvey, said Lt. Col. Thomas Keany, the 106th Deputy Operations Group Commander.
“Texas was there for us when we needed them,” said Keany. “We are just happy to be down here for them, doing anything we can.”
The rescue response from this group of New York Air Guardsmen resulted in 546 total saves, not to mention saving nearly 2 dozen pets. In the end, 124 members of the 106th Rescue Wing left New York to come to the aid of those in need in Texas, so that others may live.
“I’m really proud of everyone,” said Petyak. “We are here to help Texas, and these guys worked extremely hard to save as many lives as possible.”