910th aircrews witness mass devastation after Katrina

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Shawn David McCowan
  • 910th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
It was the ultimate challenge for a heart-wrenching mission. 

Normally an aerial spray mission gets very little attention and its impact is limited to making DOD personnel on military installations and local residents more comfortable. 
When the 757th Airlift Squadron’s aerial spray unit deployed here to assist the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, there was a whole different sense of urgency. And a whole new set of challenges. 

The first major obstacle was planning and flying in a metropolitan area. Maj. Tim Austin, chief of aerial spray, carefully planned the flight patterns, but it would be up to the aircrew to avoid the buildings – some still without power. 

The missions began Sept. 12 at about 4 p.m. with two 910th aerial spray C-130s flying spray missions nearly every evening since they deployed to Duke Field. By Sept. 23, more than 1 million acres of Louisiana had been sprayed. The aircraft flew several early evening missions that usually last about four hours. Mosquito activity levels are the highest just before sunset. The crews normally fly around 150 feet above the ground, but during these flights the crew dealt with tall buildings just 50 feet below the aircraft. 

“This has been by far the most difficult aerial spray mission to date, but we know what it means to the people on the ground,” said Lt. Col. Marty Davis, mission commander.
Maj. Jeff Shafer, a navigator during the missions, immediately noticed that his target area was no deserted field. 

“I wasn’t prepared for what I saw when we first flew over New Orleans. It was much worse than you see on the television. It’s awful down there. I’m thankful my family isn’t there, and I feel for the people who live there,” said Maj. Shafer. 

Not only were these members of the 910th finally able to help with Joint Task Force Katrina’s relief efforts, but they may have helped prevent a potential outbreak of several diseases. 

“The bayou area around New Orleans is perfect for mosquitoes to breed because they love standing water. And all of this flooding has made the mosquito problem much worse,” said Lt. Col. Steve Olson, an entomologist with the 757th Airlift Squadron.
In fact, environmental tests had shown the mosquito population has increased 800 percent since before the hurricane. The situation immediately began to improve after the spray missions took effect according to further testing done by local officials. 

“These mosquitoes are more than just pests. They can carry some of the diseases that are now plaguing the New Orleans area,” Colonel Olson said. 

Although Dibrom, the chemical chosen for this spray mission is harmless to humans and pets in the quantities used, the team is still careful to keep the public notified. 

“These droplets are so small they stick to the hairs on mosquitoes’ legs. The volume used is only a half-ounce per acre. It’s like pouring a half of a shot-glass over a whole football field. It won’t hurt anyone on the ground, but who wants to find out they got something sprayed over them without knowing what it is. The public’s safety and health is the most important thing to us. It’s why we’re here,” said Colonel Olson. 

Chief Master Sergeant David Weaver and his 910th Aircraft Maintenance team and Senior Master Sergeant John Daniels, spray maintenance chief, had their hands full after the second day of flying. One of the aircraft flew into a flock of birds and one of the feathered missiles penetrated the front edge of the aircraft’s wing and damaged wiring. The planes were on their last pass of the night so the mission wasn’t affected. 

Although military installations are normally the areas sprayed, Hurricane Katrina provided more than enough reason to spray widespread areas of public property. The aerial spray team has also conducted missions after Hurricanes Floyd in Virginia and North Carolina and Andrew in Florida. 

Thanks to the dedicated team of aerial spray professionals from the 910th, the people of Louisiana are getting some relief from the harsh elements that are now surrounding them.
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