USA: Norfolk-Based Sailors Return from Hurricane Relief Preps

Norfolk-based Sailors returned home Sept. 2 after preparing to provide humanitarian assistance in areas that were devastated by the effects of Hurricane Irene.

Once Navy commanders saw Irene’s potential path, they immediately set plans to provide direct support to civil authorities (DSCA) if requested.

We were put on alert on Monday, told to prepare to sortie on Tuesday, and were underway with our full DSCA package on Thursday,” said Capt. Brenda Holdener, commanding officer of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1).

The ships and Sailors of Amphibious Task Force ( ATF ) 26, which consists of the Expeditionary Strike Group ( ESG ) 2 command staff, Wasp, and amphibious transport ships USS San Antonio (LPD 17) and USS New York (LPD 21), departed Norfolk Aug. 25 and transited 608 nautical miles due east to steer clear of the storm. Once Irene no longer impeded safe navigation, ATF 26 immediately began heading back toward the East Coast to be prepared to assist several states impacted by the storm.

The storm hit North Carolina on Aug. 27 and left widespread power outages. The storm also caused massive flooding in the Northeast. By Aug. 29, the task force was stationed 45 nautical miles off the New Jersey coast prepared to provide assistance.

In order to maintain readiness, continuous drills and training were conducted aboard the ships to prepare Sailors for a variety of potential scenarios. A civilian contingency support at sea drill allowed Sailors to simulate procedures for hosting displaced civilians aboard a Navy ship, while mass casualty drills prepared the medical staff to respond to large numbers of severe injuries. Seabees from Amphibious Construction Battalion (ACB) 2 trained on chainsaw techniques and an adaptive medical team practiced boarding personnel with emergency medical gear onto a helicopter to minimize potential delays in the event of an actual mission.

“We conducted training every day and were ready to execute if called,” said Lt. Cmdr. Ronald Williams, Wasp training officer.

“Our aviation and medical facilities bring vital capabilities,” said Wasp Operations Officer Cmdr. Stewart Wennersten. “And we embarked a diverse package of personnel and equipment specifically tailored to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.”

The DCSA elements embarked with ATF 26 included Maritime Expeditionary Security Group 2, ACB 2, Fleet Surgical Team 4, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadrons (HSC) 26 and 28, and Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron (HM) 14.

“This surely will not be the last natural disaster to hit our country,” said Rear Adm. Kevin Scott, ESG 2 commander. “But our Sailors remain ready to respond to any crisis.”

With Irene no longer active in the US, and federal and civilian disaster response teams currently working to contain the extensive damage, ATF 26 began the transit back to the Hampton-Roads area Aug. 31 and prepared to return home to their families and neighborhoods.

“Our families are the backbone of our fleet,” said Scott. “We were pleased that we were able to account for the safety of our Sailors’ families, but we are all looking forward to returning home to reassure ourselves, and to assist with the clean-up efforts in our neighborhoods.”
Source: navy, September 5, 2011;