By Senior Airman Monica Ricci, 439th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published September 17, 2017
A Westover Air Reserve Base aerial porter loads bags onto a Wisconsin Air National Guard KC-135 at Homestead ARB, Fla. Sept. 16, 2017. Approximately 600 Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers and their baggage were moved through Homestead ARB on their way back home from supporting Hurricane Irma relief efforts in southwest Florida. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Monica Ricci)
Senior Airman Sean Grendon, an aerial porter assigned to the 58th Aerial Port Squadron works on securing a truck inside a Travis Air Force Base C-5M Super Galaxy Sept. 16, 2017 at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla. Multiple missions flew in and out of Homestead ARB, which became a hub for Hurricane Irma relief efforts just hours after the massive storm moved through the Florida Keys and southwest Florida. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Monica Ricci)
Members of the 42nd and 58th Aerial Port Squadrons, Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass., deployed to Homestead ARB, Fla. in support of Hurricane Irma relief efforts. The Airmen supported dozens of missions that flew in and out of South Florida by loading and unloading cargo off several different aircraft such as C-5s, C-130s and KC-135s. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Monica Ricci)
A forklift driven by a Westover Air Reserve Base aerial porter approaches a Travis Air Force Base C-5M Super Galaxy Sept. 16, 2017. Multiple missions flew in and out of Homestead ARB, which became a hub for Hurricane Irma relief efforts just hours after the massive storm moved through the Florida Keys and southwest Florida. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Monica Ricci)
Aerial porters from Westover Air Reserve Base were some of the first boots on the ground at Homestead ARB in response to Hurricane Irma’s potential devastation. There was no electricity when they arrived to a dark, hot and humid South Florida, but they brought the willpower.
“We got the call on the infamous Sept. 11, and knew our fellow Americans and neighbors needed help,” Staff Sgt. Alyssa Arriaga said.
Arriaga is an aerial porter assigned to the 58th Aerial Port Squadron at Westover. She and dozens of other “port dawgs” from both the 58th APS and 42nd APS deployed with just hours notice.
“Everyone from our ports are here on a volunteer basis, and helping those citizens is what fuels us through hard work, hot weather, long hours and being away from home.”
Adapting to the hot, humid weather was just one of many obstacles the port dawgs had to overcome when they flew in as a “bare-bones operation.” The base had been evacuated ahead of the massive hurricane. Aerial porters need material handling equipment like forklifts and cargo loading vehicles to get the job done.
“Our biggest challenge was working with very limited material handling equipment,” said Master Sgt. Matthew Kadish, also assigned to the 58th APS. “Our first 24 hours on the ground were tough. We had three MHEs and multiple missions, some happening at the same time.”
The missions they supported ranged from offloading evacuated civilians and their animals, to returning hundreds of Soldiers home, to bringing in and sending out water and food to the affected residents nearby. The Florida Keys were some of the hardest-hit, where FEMA estimates 25 percent of homes were destroyed.
For Senior Airman Justin Dumont, an aerial porter assigned to the 42nd APS, it is exactly what he signed up for.
“It has been an excitement,” Dumont said. “For me, myself, this is really my first big deployment. I was excited, I was anxious; I volunteered and said ‘Bring me in! I wanna go!’”
It’s been a unique opportunity for the port dawgs of both squadrons at Westover to work together.
“It has been rewarding, especially getting to know people from my squadron and the 58th APS,” Dumont said. “I have more friends now than I did yesterday.”