Airlift operation evacuates 1,000 US citizens from St Maarten

The Kentucky National Guard has reported how 12 members of its 123rd Airlift Wing and two of the unit’s C-130 planes helped to evacuate more than 1,000 US citizens from the Dutch Caribbean island of St Maarten on 9 and 10 September, flying them to safety in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

The Kentucky airmen, who personally evacuated more than 400 people, were part of a team that included aircraft and airmen from the New York Air Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing and the Puerto Rico Air Guard’s 156th Airlift Wing, said Maj. Aaron Zamora, operations officer for Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron. Together, the three units evacuated 1,028 US citizens in 11 flights.

The rescue mission was facilitated by 12 special operators from the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, who provided air traffic control for evacuation flights at Phillipsburg Airport in St Maarten.

Master Sgt Chris Hodge, a loadmaster in the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Airlift Wing, said the evacuation was one of the most rewarding missions of his career: “It was an incredible experience. I’ve been with the unit since December 2008, and we always train, and train and train, performing homeland missions that serve an essential purpose. But obviously, a mission like this serves a much greater purpose. When you’re talking about rescuing people and saving lives, that takes things to a whole different level.”

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