By Capt. Jean Marie Kratzer, New York Army National GuardNovember 15, 2017
PUERTO RICO - During forty days in Puerto Rico, 60 aviation Soldiers of the New York Army National Guard flew 369 hours while conducting 216 missions, and delivered 223 pallets of food, 324 pallets of water and 382 passengers to help the island's residents recover from Hurricane Maria.
"If supplies were available to hand out to the people, we were pushing it out to them, "said Lt. Col Jason Lefton, the battalion commander of 3rd Battalion, 142nd Assault Helicopter Battalion, who led the team.
"When available we delivered baby formulas, diapers and other baby sundries, pre-mature baby medicines, insulin, feminine hygiene products, over the counter medication and tarps," Lefton said.
The New Yorkers also transported doctors and nurses to isolated communities and inserted Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel and security forces where necessary, he added.
Operating from a staging site outside of San Juan at Isla Grande, where the Dominicci Airport is located, the 3rd Battalion 142nd Aviation team, provided air movements support and moved supplies to areas that couldn't be reached by road because of missing bridges and wash outs.
They also conducted operations on the offshore islands of Vieques and Culebra, as well as other missions.
The task force deployed pilots, crew chiefs, mechanics, flight operations personnel and a small headquarters element that maintained personnel and logistics support.
"The Soldiers of the battalion kept their morale high and worked hard and effectively, said Capt. Andy Shaw, the battalion logistics officer.
The mission began on September 28, when four UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters from the battalion were loaded onto three C-17s flown by the New York Air National Guard's 105th Airlift Wing at the Army Aviation Support Facility in Ronkonkoma, N.Y.
The final group of aviation Soldiers, and two UH-60s, returned from the deployment on November 7. Army aviators from the Ohio, Pennsylvania and the South Carolina National Guards replaced them.
In addition to integrating with the Puerto Rico National Guard, the aircraft and crews flew and worked with other contingents from New York: the New York State Police, the Fire Department of New York, the New York Police Department, and Homeland Security Investigations and Customs and Border Protection teams based in New York.
Rebuilding Puerto Rico has been the unit's opportunity to serve their fellow Americans. The storm destroyed roads, homes and cut vital resources like water and electricity to citizens there, Lefton said.
Shortly after the storm the Department of Defense reported that approximately 44 percent of Puerto Rico's population is without drinking water, 80 percent of generator transmission systems and 100 percent of distribution systems are damaged, and only 11 out of 69 hospitals had power.
His team was also reinforced with CH-47 helicopters flown by Army Guard aircrews from Pennsylvania and Georgia, Lefton said.
These CH-47 crews conducted sling-load operations to reinforce the dam holding back the Guajataca Reservoir in the northeast section of the islands.
The dam's spillway was weakening and engineers were worried that it could give away and flood neighboring towns. The aviators used their heavy lift helicopters to dump sand bags on the weakened sections of the dam.
Overall, the aviation Soldiers performed wonderfully, Lefton said.
"The mission was successfully completed in Puerto Rico and it is exactly what we signed up to do in the National Guard, I am proud of all the Soldiers. While we are always prepared for austere conditions our team never complained and continued to be dedicated aviation professionals," Lefton said.
The 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation Battalion, operates UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters at MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma and at Albany International Airport in Latham.
Aircrews from the Battalion deployed in 2013 to Kuwait as part of an aviation task force under the command of the 42nd Combat Aviation Brigade. The company supported aviation training and readiness of multinational forces in and near Kuwait.
The battalion deployed to southern Iraq in 2008 to 2009 and took control of an AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopter Company, and provided aviation support throughout the region supporting the 10th Mountain Division.