More than 20 troops from the Michigan National Guard are leaving for Texas to help assist in the massive rescue and recovery operation following what’s now become Tropical Depression Harvey.
Flight crews from the Grand Ledge Armory near Lansing and Selfridge Air National Guard Base outside Detroit are heading south.
The Guard is sending two CH-47 Chinooks –one of the largest helicopters in the Army’s fleet – and one UH-72 Lakota. That’s a much smaller and more maneuverable aircraft well suited for search and rescue.
“We can hoist without landing in picking up personnel or various amounts of equipment,” says Major Randy Knowles, a company commander with the 112th Aviation Regiment in Grand Ledge. “We have two Chinooks departing out of Selfridge as well, and they can do various things. I know they’re bringing some large fuel bladders which will help re-fuel capability, as well as obviously a Chinook can carry an awful lot of cargo and personnel.”
The hoist swings out via a mechanical arm near the roof of the Lakota. Then, a sturdy steel hook is lowered by a cable that can be clipped onto rescue devices to pull flood victims to safety.
Crew chief Sergeant John Sheehan knows what to expect. He was deployed to Texas in 2008 after Hurricane Ike.
“It’s going to be a lot of people who are in distress,” says Sheehan. “It’s understanding that we need to be cool, level-headed people that get them moved to where they need to be to be safe.”
It takes a steady hand and a keen eye to pilot a Lakota helicopter in a rescue mission. That’s where Chief Warrant Officer David Boling comes in.
“Our hardest job is to maintain a perfectly still hover, and it’s harder at higher altitudes,” Boling explains. “And what I like to hear from the guys in the back is, ‘good hover.’
The crew is already visualizing their movements even before they deploy.
“We just practiced today (Wednesday),” Boling says. “We went up and simulated 10 rescues today and we did that just last week too. So I think we’re ready to go.”
Besides the air crews, the Michigan National Guard is making plans to send additional troops to Texas if called upon.