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97th AEG aids Keesler in humanitarian support

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AETCNS) -- When the call comes in for an air expeditionary group to deploy, it's usually to a destination with sand, located on foreign soil. Although the sand is still present, this time the big difference is the group was called to deploy inside the United States -- right at Keesler.

The 97th Air Expeditionary Group began arriving Sept. 6 and is comprised of Airmen from all over the United States selected to be part of the group which focuses on humanitarian missions.

"Our mission is to provide support capabilities for organizations such as the Mississippi and Federal Emergency Management agencies which request Department of Defense assistance," said
Col. Linda Medler, 97th AEG commander. "We are also responsible for supporting the non-governmental organizations to get goods and services out to the communities. We are here to support the humanitarian effort any way we can."

Upon arrival, the AEG began standing up immediately and, by Sept. 8, quickly amassed to more than 190 personnel located here and in Gulfport, Miss. The group is in process of relieving Keesler of the responsibility of bedding down individuals associated with FEMA and agencies here to support the humanitarian mission.

"We anticipate that we will be fully operational by Sept. 14, which will bring the expeditionary group to about 250 people," said Lt. Col. Karl Freerks, 97th AEG deputy commander.

Even partially assembled, the group wasted no time finding out where FEMA needed help and put people to work.

Thirty-five Airmen sorted through 46 large pallets of medical supplies Sept. 9 to inventory, organize and prepare the supplies for transportation. The supplies are used to restock nine satellite locations
along the coast for veterinarian and disaster medical assistance teams. Each remote team provides vital medical services for survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

"God love 'em!" said Bob Haley, disaster management support team logistics chief, as he drove up and
saw all the Airmen hard at work. "For the last eight days I've only had two team members here to go through this entire inventory, and without these Airmen it wouldn't have been possible. If we didn't have this kind of help, our teams would be seriously deficient in our ability to support this mission."

After all the supplies were inventoried, a small group of Airmen accompanied the delivery truck to five of the satellite locations which were established at hospitals in devastated areas. The Airmen helped unload the supplies at each stop and were humbled by the sight of destruction they witnessed between and at each stop.

"All of these Airmen are doing absolutely incredible work and working long hours -- both in the expeditionary group and the 81st Training Wing," Colonel Medler said. "By looking around at what has already been accomplished and what is being accomplished every day, one can see that the practice of 'service before self' is alive in the Air Force, federal and state agencies."
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