Missouri Guard Black Hawk, crew respond to oil spill in Gulf of Mexico

By: Matthew Wilson
Missouri National Guard Public Affairs

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. - For one of the five Missouri National Guardsmen who make up the first part of Missouri's 10-15 Soldier Gulf mission, the trip south marks a return home.

Sgt. Kirt Orlando, a crew chief from Company C, 1-106th Assault Helicopter Battalion at Fort Leonard Wood, is a Louisiana native. He said that makes his current mission helping respond to the Gulf oil spill especially significant.

"This means a lot to me because I grew up pretty much where the oil spill is at," Orlando said. "I lived there until I was 25 years old and I know the area. I know it's going to be detrimental to the people that live there and the fishing industry. I worked in the oil field business for a while and I kind of know the terrain and what it means to the people."

Orlando, along with two pilots, Capt. Nicholas Pianalto and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Dan Milberg and another crew chief, Sgt. Darrin Davis, took off in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from the Christopher S. "Kit" Bond Army Aviation Support Facility for Hammond, La.

A Missouri National Guardsman since 2003, Orlando said he is eager to use his knowledge of the area to assist the people of Louisiana, which includes his sister and brother-in-law in Hammond, with recovery efforts.

"From fishing in the area, I'll hopefully know pretty much where I'm at," said Orlando, who lives in St. James. "A lot of it looks the same - marsh for miles and miles. But I know landmarks."

If the crew needs anything during its time in Hammond, Orlando said he should be able to acquire it.

"I used to be in the 244th Aviation Regiment of the Louisiana National Guard, which is the unit that we are going to be based at," he said. "I still have a lot of connections and people I keep in touch with."

Earlier this week, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon mobilized 10-15 Soldiers to help Louisiana with response efforts to the Gulf oil spill.

Pianalto, of the 35th Combat Aviation Brigade in Sedalia, said the Black Hawk crew will provide external load capabilities, transport and daily insertion and extraction of response personnel to various sites and missions.

"Once we get down there and get settled in, we'll do a local area orientation with one of the Louisiana Guard pilots," said Pianalto, who lives in Waynesville. "He'll show us the area of operations."
"I can just estimate that we'll be flying five or six hours a day. I think it will vary on the day and what is going on. I do anticipate flying quite a bit."

One of the main missions Pianalto anticipates is the mass movement of sand bags to where they are needed most.

"The UH-60 has the capability to transport external loads," he said. "So as they fill the sand bags or containers with whatever substance it is that soaks up the oil, we can move those for them into position more easily than they can load them on a truck and drive them where they need to go."

The Black Hawk can carry a total of 22,000 pounds and holds a four-person crew, along with room for 11 other passengers. For external transport, like the movement of sand bags, the Black Hawk can carry about 8,000 pounds.

Milberg, of the 1107th Theater Aviation Support Maintenance Group in Springfield, said the biggest challenges the crew will face are heat, humidity, handling a weighted down aircraft and dealing with the high density of aircraft traffic in an unfamiliar area.

"Other than that, it's normal - we expect lots of changes and anything goes in a situation like this," said Milberg, of Robertsville. "I think we are going to be doing a lot of equipment and asset movement operations down there. We'll probably be in a situation where we'll lift the heaviest load we can under the conditions for the day."

In 2005, Milberg flew some medical Guardsmen from Missouri halfway through their journey to support relief efforts from Hurricane Katrina. He said it is his privilege to again help out Louisiana.

"I enjoy taking part in any of these efforts, whenever I get the chance," he said.

Davis, also of the 1-106th, said he's proud to represent Missouri in response to a national domestic disaster.

"When I think of the National Guard, this is what comes to my mind. This is why I joined the Guard - to help ourselves and our neighbors," said Davis, who lives in East Prairie. "Hopefully we can make a difference down there. When you think about one person or four people, can they really make a difference? I think we can do something to be positive and when we leave there, hopefully they can see a little bit of a difference."

Davis said he is no stranger to Louisiana after he supported the Missouri Guard response after Hurricane Katrina.

After leaving Fort Leonard Wood, the crew stopped in Springfield to pick up Sgt. Maj. Terry Hampton, the 1107th's aircraft maintenance foreman. Hampton will be responsible for organizing the needs of the aircraft maintenance personnel from the Missouri Guard who also are responding to the disaster. Hampton will return later in the week.

The helicopter also had scheduled stops at Camp Robinson, Ark., and Greenville, Miss., to refuel, before it reached Hammond. The total flight time was just under four hours.

This mission will mark a return to the Gulf for Missouri Guard members. Soldiers and Airmen previously supported response efforts to hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Gustav in 2005 and 2008.

Missouri and other state National Guards are being activated under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact. The agreement, which was established in 1996, has become a cornerstone of response to major disasters. It ensures that assets from other states can be brought to bear against a wide range of disasters including fires, floods and manmade disasters.

In February, Gov. Nixon sent a C-130 cargo aircraft and an 11-Airmen crew from the Guard's 139th Airlift Wing to Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina in support of Haiti earthquake relief operations.


Posted: 5/26/2010 12:41:50 PM

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