MANSFIELD - The 179th Airlift Wing of the Ohio National Guard is continuing to send personnel and supplies to Puerto Rico to aid those affected by the devastation of Hurricane Maria.
On Friday, a fourth C-130H Hercules aircraft along with six Airmen from the 200th Red Horse Squadron and a Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit left from Mansfield bound for Puerto Rico.
Master Sgt. Isaac Strickler, a Power Production Supervisor with the 200th RHS said "We are taking the ROWPU to Puerto Rico, we are going down there to set it up to produce fresh drinking water for the local communities for the next several months."
The ROWPU provides potable water from a variety of raw water sources such as wells, lakes, seas, lagoons, rivers, oceans and ice holes. The proper use of the ROWPU can provide purified drinking water for thousands of people.
Roughly 20 members of the 179th Airlift Wing, along with the 178th Wing of Springfield, left around noon Wednesday on a C-130 Hercules to respond to relief efforts needed in Puerto Rico.
For most of the service members, it was their first deployment, said Col. James Camp, commander of the 179th Airlift Wing. The mobile food trailer they are manning will be set up in the southern part on the island.
"It's a very emotional experience," he said of first-time airmen being deployed.
Going with them is a 15,000-pound disaster relief mobile kitchen trailer, which will provide hot meals to service members and first responders already helping bring basic needs to the island after Hurricane Maria struck there in September.
The food trailer, which took up most of the space inside the C-130, is designed to support the first responders' primary mission, reacting quickly to contingency disasters. Food cooked and served rapidly to the needy and hungry is morale-boosting and a key logistical component of any first response, Camp said.
Airmen from both units will use the mobile food trailer, which supports virtually any field-feeding scenario, from quickly prepared boil-in-the-bag meals to restaurant-quality meals for up to 1,000 people in under 90 minutes.
Staff Sgt. Hannah Hildebrand, 22, of Bucyrus, has been in the guard for 4½ years.
A traditional guard member, she is in college in Columbus studying to become a nurse. She will be serving food with her colleagues.
"I'm happy to be helping out," she said.
Airman First Class Lauren Adkins, 23, of Mansfield, was proud to say she was deploying for the first time.
Her husband Josh, also a member of the 179th, came to say goodbye.
"I'm worried about her, but basically I'm a little jealous," said her husband, who wished he was going, too.
Adkins said her father Chief Bryan Vipperman, also of the 179th, encouraged her to join the Ohio National Guard.
"It's been one of my dreams and I've seen what it means to my family, and I want that, too, for my family," she said, gathering up her belongings.
Capt. Evan Howard of Dayton and Sr. Master Sgt. Garth Eldridge of Mansfield, both of the 179th, talked with media at the base at Mansfield Lahm Airport while airmen waited to depart.
Guardsmen will serve prepackaged, hot meals for breakfast and dinner, a step up from MREs people are eating now, Howard said.
"The object is to increase morale and that's what hot meals do," he said.
A typical meal might be scrambled eggs, pancakes and potatoes for breakfast and for supper, spaghetti and bread, he added.
Eldridge said he has deployed with the kitchen in the past and will be the go-to guy if there are any problems getting the kitchen up and running.
"It's a very capable piece of equipment," he said.
Camp said the U.S. active duty military and guard units are using every resource they have to help Puerto Rico.
"We have 28 (179th) maintenance personnel who have been down in Savannah, Georgia, for about the last two weeks. Savannah is a C-130 hub," he said. "All of them have elected to extend and stay down there another month to support the maintenance operation. Right now, they have roughly 27 C-130s like ours down there representing seven or eight different states in the country," Camp said.
In addition to the C-130 aircraft and personnel deploying Wednesday, Camp said there is one Air National Guard member from the 179th working in Washington, D.C., at the Air National Guard Readiness Center crisis action team.
"He is working there, helping to plan these missions," Camp added.
"We also have one of our other pilots at the state joint headquarters coordinating with the Army because this is really a massive, joint effort between the Army Guard/Air National Guard, active duty, Navy, Coast Guard. It's huge," Camp said. "It's a logistical challenge to bring all these assets together, almost like an orchestra.
"The problem is not the amount of supplies and the people who want to go, but it's the ability for the island to receive the equipment and personnel in the right way. If you hit there with a few thousand people for the relief effort that's great, but you have to be able to care for and feed for those folks as well," Camp said. "Right now it's mostly medical support, infrastructure rebuilding, simple basic needs such as food, water, medical supplies, that type of thing."
Camp said he believes it will be a long logistical challenge for the next 60 to 90 days and as a unit, he is preparing to allocate resources.
"We're working around the clock to make sure we're handling this the right way," he said.