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Team MacDill answers the call for hurricane relief

by 1st Lt. Larry van der Oord
Chief of Internal Information
Courtesy photo

Hurricane relief team members from MacDill unload a semi-truck trailer loaded with bottled water for survivors of Hurricane Katrina in Biloxi, Miss. Chaplain (Capt.) Kyle Roehrig, 6th Air Mobility Wing chaplain, and Staff Sgt. Sara Eldridge, 6th AMW chaplainís assistant, were part of MacDillís team and the first Air Force chaplain team to arrive in the area since Katrina devastated the entire region.

Courtesy photo

Staff Sgt. Sara Eldridge, 6th AMW chaplainís assistant, hands off a load of water intended for the many hurricane victims. She was one of 52 Airmen who participated in a food, water and clothing drop to Lighthouse Apostolic Church in Biloxi, Miss.

As relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina continue at a feverish pace, MacDill is one of many military installations pitching in to help.

MacDill has deployed nearly 30 support personnel, completed aerial refueling and airlift missions and provided personnel assistance in support of Hurricane Katrina relief.

The team, composed of civil engineers, services personnel, chaplains, medical personnel and more, was sent to the Gulf Coast where they will work in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal and state agencies to provide support to the Hurricane Katrina survivors.

MacDill's 91st Air Refueling Squadron conducted two presidential support aerial refueling missions while President George W. Bush traveled to and from the Katrina relief area. The 310th Airlift Squadron here provided transportation for U.S. Northern Command personnel en route to Baton Rouge, La. and to their headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo.

MacDill also continues to provide a full-range of support to military members and their dependents displaced from Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss.

"It is absolutely heart breaking to see the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina," said Col. Maggie Woodward, 6th Air Mobility Wing commander. "MacDill is proud to be a part of the efforts and offer the expertise and helping hand of our professional Airmen. We will continue to fill any taskings from higher headquarters as our government and military move forward in this enormous joint relief effort."

Chaplain (Capt.) Kyle Roehrig and Staff Sgt. Sara Eldridge, two members of the MacDill relief team, arrived at Keesler AFB Saturday morning by way of Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga.

Chaplain Roehrig and Sergeant Eldridge were placed on 24-hour stand-by and told to be ready to possibly deploy to Keesler.

"After getting that initial call saying we might be going, we got another one within 40 minutes with confirmation," said Chaplain Roehrig.

Chaplain Roehrig and Sergeant Eldridge were able to land at Keesler, and were amazed by the lack of immediate physical turmoil.

Chaplain Roehrig said the area surrounding the flight line looked to be in surprisingly good shape all things considered.

While at Keesler, one of the duo's main focuses will be to work with and care for all the non-permanent party students displaced from their tech schools at Keesler. The chapel team does not know how long they will remain at Keesler, but they are there to help.

"Sergeant Eldridge and I are working as a team, and we will continue to provide for the spiritual and emotional care of the base population," said Chaplain Roehrig.

Besides caring for spiritual needs of the base, they have also participated in several humanitarian efforts.

"We took a 53-foot tractor trailer loaded with diapers, water, food, clothing and other supplies to two different food drops in the local community," said Chaplain Roehrig.

While some buildings were completely destroyed and other damage is evident, Chaplain Roehrig feels confident that the base will return to some sense of normalcy in a relatively short time. Power has been restored to much of the base, flood waters have started to recede, and there is even talk letting people back into the housing that was not destroyed within 2 weeks.

Chaplain Roehrig urged people to not lose sight of the big picture.

"Three weeks from now when the immediacy starts to fade, don't stop with donations," he said. "We are in a marathon, not a sprint and we need to make sure we care for the people of Keesler in that way."

Hundreds of Airmen nationwide have been deployed to Louisiana and Mississippi to aid in relief efforts. As of Sept. 4, the Air Force had moved more than 2,955 aeromedical evacuation patients, transferred more than 15,165 passengers and delivered 4,613 tons of cargo supporting Joint Task Force Katrina, Air Force officials said.

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