A convoy of thousands of tractor-trailers began arriving from across the country Thursday and rolling through the west gate of Joint Base San Antonio (JBSA)-Randolph, the “Showplace of the Air Force,” on the northeastern edge of San Antonio.
As the 18-wheelers queued up along the flight line, their engines idled and horns occasionally blared, JBSA Commander Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle and Federal Coordinating Officer Scott Thomas, of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Region IV, spoke of a common mission: Taking care of those affected by Hurricane Harvey.
JBSA is supporting Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in many ways, including the “stand up” of two incident support bases (ISBs), one in Seguin, Texas, and the other at Randolph, where the trucks arrived this week. A “stand up” is essentially the opposite of the commonly known military term to “stand down,” to leave or take out of active service, and JBSA is doing anything but.
“Joint Base San Antonio is such a great group of mission partners. And we do things here that aren’t done anywhere else anywhere in the military,” Pringle said following a news conference at the base.
“From the civil-military cooperation of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine and Coast Guard, and Guard, Reserve and active duty, all these entities are coming together and it does take a lot of coordination, and building relationships and establishing trust. But when you have a mission and you want to take care of those who are affected by the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey, it all comes together and magic happens when you’re focused on that common mission.”
Randolph is serving as an overflow location for the Seguin ISB which was stood up Aug. 24 and has been processing about 250 trucks a day. That cargo so far has contained 5 million meals and 4.5 million liters of water being used to hurricane recovery efforts on the coast and the Houston area.
“It’s our responsibility, working with FEMA, to stage those trucks here to get the maximum amount of supplies at this location so we can respond and get that material out again,” said Army Major Jesse Holmes, of the Defense Logistics Agency. “So it’s like a holding yard, with trucks coming from all over the country and funneling right here, and FEMA is going to decide where the government needs that commodity.”
The trucks arriving at Randolph contain mostly MREs (meals ready to eat) and water, Holmes said, but also tarps, cots, tents, sheeting and comfort packs. They come in, get processed, drop the trailer and take off again for more. Other trucks will deliver the trailers and life-saving cargo to a final destination as determined by FEMA and the state.
“We’re in support of FEMA’s efforts. When they get overwhelmed [in Seguin], we have this capability to provide distribution support,” Holmes said. “That’s our wheelhouse.”
And there is definitely more coming, according to FEMA’s Thomas, so that’s the reason for the stand-up.
“This is my seventh hurricane. This is the worst,” he said, adding that he was involved with relief efforts following the destructive Hurricane Sandy in 2012. “And that was real bad, too. But, for me personally, this has been the most extensive damage. Normally a hurricane, as big as it is, the damage tends to be focused, like Hurricane Ike where [a stretch between] Galveston and Orange County got the brunt of the damage.
“Here, we’ve gone from Corpus Christi to past Houston, so over half the coast of the state of Texas has been impacted by this hurricane, just by the way it meandered and came back. So it’s quite extensive.”
American Red Cross is another major part of the relief effort locally, working with FEMA and other groups. San Antonio Chapter Executive Director Henry Van de Putte said Friday the local chapter continues to assist with the 500 evacuees remaining in an emergency shelter here. There are 400 volunteers currently assisting the chapter, which has trained a total of 1,400 volunteers since the disaster struck. There were plans for an additional training session Saturday when Van de Putte said thousands could be trained all at once.
With so many charitable, civil and defense groups, within JBSA and out, teaming on relief efforts, the cooperation itself is an extensive undertaking.
“This is something we plan and prepare and train and exercise for, and we are ready when asked,” Pringle said. “So in the meantime, we are doing what we can and this is a perfect example – providing support for FEMA as a staging base to get those relief supplies out there.
Is Thomas satisfied with how operations are going?
“No, you’re never satisfied until everybody’s back home. But we’re moving as fast as we can move, and as fast as conditions will allow us to get to where we need to be.”