JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. (AFNS) — A team of nearly 50 Air Force civil engineers from duty locations across the country pulled together to form the 331st Air Expeditionary Group to pump flood waters affecting New York coastal communities following Hurricane Sandy. The command team for this group was from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.
The 331st AEG assembled Saturday, Nov. 3, with engineers from Hurlburt Field, Fla.; Joint Base Andrews, Md.; Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va.; Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho; and Ellsworth AFB, S.D.; led by the command team from Nellis AFB, Nev. The team received additional equipment contributed by Offutt AFB, Neb., and Holloman AFB, N.M. and staged out of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst facilities to support relief operations.
“The whole Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst community has been extremely responsive and helpful in facilitating our support mission currently taking place in the New York City area where flood waters have devastated communities,” said Col. Darren Bishop, 331st AEG commander and the 99th Mission Support Group commander from Nellis AFB. “The Resource Control Center equipped us with extra cots and sleeping bags for forward deployment, the 305th Air Mobility Wing gave us hangar space to stage assets, the 87th Civil Engineer Squadron gave us trailer hitches and fixed office heat for us, the Logistics Readiness Squadron cut emergency fuel keys for us, and the list goes on and on.”
According to Bishop, the 331st AEG is part of a joint service mission supplying forces to “Task Force Pump” to ensure Department of Defense pumping assets are pooled and utilized effectively and efficiently to support relief efforts. The task force has partnered with the New York Fire Department to determine the priority in which locations should receive pumping support to remove flood waters from critical areas.
“This team is a combination of RED HORSE and Prime BEEF engineers from several locations, and we were all eager to respond and help out in any way we can to provide relief to these communities that have lost so much during this disaster,” said Capt. Eric Rosenlof, officer-in-charge of the 331st AEG engineers sent to Fort Hamilton, N.Y., originally assigned to the 823rd RED HORSE Squadron out of Hurlburt Field, Fla.
The 331st AEG split up into several teams in order to provide pump support in various locations at once. The first team arrived at the Rockaway, N.Y., Wastewater Treatment Facility and learned quickly how important their mission was going to be.
“We were told that we need to help clear water from one tank to another so that each tank can be cleaned of sludge and debris, one at a time,” said Staff Sgt. Paul Clayborn, originally of the 823rd RED HORSE Squadron from Hurlburt Field, Fla. “Each of the four tanks being cleared holds 500,000 gallons of water and blockages in these tanks forces sewage water back into the bay, so we need to help get them cleared out as soon as possible.”
Another team removed water from a parking lot down the road in Rockaway, then made their way to Breezy Point to help families clear flood waters from their homes.
“Breezy Point is one of many hard hit areas and is still without power and water as most of the homes are badly damaged or destroyed,” said Master Sgt. Steven Rector, team lead originally of the 366th CES from Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. “Our team helped local residents pump out driveways and submerged areas so residents could salvage and recover personal property.”
Eleven miles away, the next team arrived in Coney Island to pump water from basements ravaged by the storm, while a fourth team cleared water from a parking garage in Brooklyn.
“Local residents have tried for the last week to pump the parking garage out with little success,” said Tech.Sgt. James Duhon, team lead originally of the 633rd CES from Langley, Va. “Our team had it pumped half way down in the first couple hours before identifying a water main break inside the garage keeping it from being emptied. The water break was isolated and shut-off and pumping operations resumed. By late afternoon the basement parking garage was drained and our task was completed.”
After the first day of pumping operations, with more to be done, a timeline for how long these efforts will continue is unclear.
“I can’t offer a forecast as to how long the 331st AEG will be here,” Bishop said. “But I can tell you that we are honored to be doing this mission and will stay as long as we can to support relief operations.”