173rd Fighter Wing Airmen deploy in support of Hurricane Maria relief

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  • 173rd Fighter Wing

Seven members of the 173rd Fighter Wing have deployed in support of relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria’s trek across the island of Puerto Rico as of Oct. 26, 2017.

Maj. Michael Balzotti and Master Sgt. Michael Moore from the 270th Air Traffic Control Squadron deployed to Ponce, Puerto Rico a city on the southern coast of the island. 

Tech. Sgt. Brad Kortum, Staff Sgt. Jeff Ochoa, Senior Airman Robert Gillard, and Staff Sgt. Daniel Bowman from the logistics readiness squadron, and Tech. Sgt. James Mossett from the maintenance group, are all in Savanna, Ga., supporting the state-side hub for relief efforts.

Guardsmen across the nation are often referred to as minutemen.  This is because historically they can be ready in a minute. This was clearly demonstrated with the wing’s response to the call for assistance.

“We found out on a Thursday and processed them out on Friday and Saturday; they left Sunday,” said Tech. Sgt. Erika Meng, 173rd Fighter Wing Plans and Integration Office.

Balzotti said that he and Moore flew to Missouri to fill a team left shorthanded by other deployment commitments overseas. They spent a single night stateside and then planned to proceed to Puerto Rico, but were stalled by further poor weather on the island.

“We flew to Savannah, Ga., because another rainstorm flooded the airport on the 16th [of October],” he said. “We were able to begin equipment setup the 19th and began controlling aircraft on the 21st,” Balzotti said.

Once the airport became operational an array of aircraft populated the airspace including many helicopters for aid deliver as well as medical response, Air Force transport aircraft delivering aid, as well as civilian and commercial aircraft.

He added that in, what is typical for many guardsmen, Moore’s breadth of training is proving extremely valuable in a crisis response situation.

“He stepped in as the senior maintenance technician,” Balzotti said. “He’s got a number of AFSC’s—power production, HVAC, weather, and airfield systems a lot of training. He’s fixed issues we’ve had with our radios at home and we have had the same issues here, he’s already got that fixed extending range from 1 mile to 30 miles and he also passed that along to the Marine Corps who employed the same fix to extend their range as well.”

Mossett, a crew chief on the F-15 Eagle, is also employing previous experience to lend a hand to the disaster response.

“He’s working on C-130s because he holds that AFSC; it’s what he did before coming to the wing,” said Meng.

He and the other members from the wing are helping at the staging ground for relief operations in Savannah, Ga. 

Bowman and Gillard are helping with transportation management and Ochoa and Kortum are drivers for buses and other large vehicles.

The estimated length of the deployments range from 24 to 60 days.