SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- As of Dec. 11, 2017, the 437th Aerial Port Squadron at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, has supported 333 missions transporting 2,504 tons of cargo and 1,081 passengers in support of Hurricane Irma and Maria relief efforts.
1st Lt. Rebecca Ryti, the 437th APS air freight flight commander, has been there every step of the way.
Charleston’s aerial port supports a humanitarian mission to Honduras on a weekly basis through U.S. Transportation Command’s Denton program. However, this was Ryti’s first time seeing a natural disaster occur, where she had the ability to enable support.
“When you come into the military you don’t quite understand just how much of an impact you can make on a daily basis,” said Ryti, a native of Mainz, Germany. “It is really humbling to be able to look out into the world and say I’ve impacted that and helped for the better.”
Ryti managed almost 100 Airmen in charge of receiving and palletizing equipment for three hurricane relief operations.
“The most difficult part was trying to get clarification in terms of the process,” she said. “We [aerial port] have the capability to ship trucks, planes, pallets, boats and specialty cargo like blood or vaccines.”
Prior to Hurricane Maria making land fall, her flight unexpectedly received 56 tons of water on a Friday and had to palletize it and have it ready to ship to St. Martin, Virgin Islands, by Sunday. She called in reinforcements to make it happen.
“We can be ready as soon as we receive the assets,” she said. “Once a truck pulls up to our dock, we can unload it, inspect it and get it out to the aircraft in under two hours.”
This was also Ryti’s first time seeing the Federal Emergency Management Agency in action during a humanitarian mission. First they came down and did a site visit to look at that aerial port’s capabilities, manpower and how much they could send to Puerto Rico. They also looked at the U.S. Navy sealift capabilities there. In the end, JB Charleston was asked by FEMA through USTRANSCOM to be an installation support base. An ISB is a reception area for disaster relief supplies.
“FEMA coordinated getting us the assets and we palletized and transported it for them out by air,” said Ryti. “Aerial movement is quite amazing because you can move things from one point to another much more quickly than by any other means of transportation.”
Six members of her flight deployed to the Dominica, Dominican Republic and St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, to support Hurricane Maria. The Airmen formed a material handling equipment team and were responsible for driving larger than usual equipment used to off-load cargo.
“To be able to look at an article or on the news and say I actually shipped that asset out and here it is supporting electricity, I think it warms their hearts and makes them more appreciative of what they do on a daily basis.”