USA — Louisiana Aviators Battle Oil Spill

BATON ROUGE, La., May 27, 2010 — “Launch, recov­er, launch” best describes the oper­a­tions tem­po of the heli­copter mis­sions being per­formed by the Louisiana Army Nation­al Guard’s State Avi­a­tion Com­mand in its ongo­ing response to the oil spill along Louisiana’s coast caused by the April 20 explo­sion of the Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon oil rig in the Gulf of Mex­i­co.

Louisiana Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter
A Louisiana Army Nation­al Guard UH-60 Black Hawk heli­copter per­forms sling-load oper­a­tions in Port Four­chon, La., May 11, 2010, in sup­port of the response to the Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon oil spill.
U.S. Army pho­to by Sgt. Michael L. Owens
Click to enlarge

“Aviation’s being leaned on pret­ty heav­i­ly. … Just look at the fly­ing hours,” said Army Col. Patrick R. Bos­set­ta, com­man­der of the State Avi­a­tion Com­mand, locat­ed in Ham­mond, La. “We’re fly­ing between 40 and 50 hours-a-day. I tell you, that’s a heck of a feat.”

Bos­set­ta, from Fol­som, La., explained that the oper­a­tions tem­po is almost as high as that expe­ri­enced by Louisiana avi­a­tion units deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in the past few years.

Maj. John P. Plun­kett, com­man­der of the Army Avi­a­tion Sup­port Facil­i­ty in Ham­mond, described the engi­neer­ing sup­port mis­sions as pri­mar­i­ly involv­ing troop trans­port, sling-load­ing sand bags and crit­i­cal engi­neer­ing equip­ment, and aer­i­al recon­nais­sance. The sling-loaded sand bags, often weigh­ing up to 6,000 pounds per load, are dropped by UH-60 Black Hawk heli­copters onto island breach­es to stem the flow of oil into crit­i­cal waters and marsh­es.

These same heli­copters also trans­port sol­diers and air­men to and from remote work sites, and car­ry the crit­i­cal pieces of engi­neer­ing equip­ment the troops need to per­form their mis­sions, such as fuel pal­lets and gen­er­a­tors, Plun­kett said.

The aer­i­al recon­nais­sance mis­sions are crit­i­cal because they pro­vide local author­i­ties and emer­gency oper­a­tions per­son­nel the oppor­tu­ni­ty to see first-hand how the shore­line is being affect­ed and how mit­i­ga­tion resources are being applied.

“It is crit­i­cal that they can take a look at what’s going on in their parish­es, how their booms are laid out, what defens­es they have to pro­tect them­selves from any intru­sion of oil and actu­al­ly get eyes out on where the oil may be in their par­tic­u­lar parish­es,” Bos­set­ta said.

Fol­low­ing pre-flight pro­ce­dures that begin before dawn, the avi­a­tion mis­sions launch from the Avi­a­tion Command’s head­quar­ters in Ham­mond for work sites along Louisiana’s coast­line. Once the day’s mis­sions are com­plet­ed, the air­craft return to Ham­mond, usu­al­ly late in the evening, where the crew chiefs and main­te­nance tech­ni­cians per­form crit­i­cal post-flight pro­ce­dures, Plun­kett said.

“They have to be mis­sion-ready for the next day,” said Army Sgt. Robert Cuevas III, a crew chief and main­te­nance tech­ni­cian from Metairie, La., who works full-time at the State Avi­a­tion Command’s sup­port facil­i­ty.

“Basi­cal­ly the air­craft that fly one day are going to be fly­ing the next day,” echoed Army Staff Sgt. War­ren L. Smith, from Albany, La., who also works full-time as a crew chief and main­te­nance tech­ni­cian at the Ham­mond facil­i­ty.

Despite the long work­days the avi­a­tion crews have been putting in, the avi­a­tors, crew chiefs and main­te­nance tech­ni­cians have “good atti­tudes and are com­mit­ted to doing the best they can to serve the state of Louisiana,” Plun­kett said.

Speak­ing with pride about the sol­diers in his com­mand, Bos­set­ta empha­sized that “they always rise to the occa­sion – they always do.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)