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AETC poised for Hurricane Rita

RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AETCNS) -- Air Education and Training Command is poised and ready to provide relief efforts for Hurricane Rita after more than a week of preparation.

In anticipation of Rita's arrival, AETC crisis action team officials say the team is "leaning forward" as the command's coordination hub for emergency response efforts.

"AETC did a great job responding to Hurricane Katrina," said Maj. Marc Caudill, AETC CAT coordinator. "The CAT mobilized quickly and was able to prep our wings for recovery. As a result Keesler Air Force Base (Miss.), which took a direct hit from Katrina, has almost all of its infrastructure up and running right now."

Major Caudill said Joint Task Force Rita has completed bed down of incoming aircraft deployed in support of Hurricane Rita relief efforts and has started assessing the potential needs of the areas most likely to be affected by Rita. The JTF forwards these requirements to the AETC CAT, which coordinates the necessary response effort from across the command.

"Our foremost job at the CAT is to support our bases and their wings," Major Caudill said. "It's our job to reach out and touch people and get them the manpower and equipment they need."

The command is also posturing to support Department of Homeland Security requests for assistance of humanitarian aid operations.

"Obviously, the extent of our response is pure supposition at this point since we are still in the pre-event stage," the major said. "But AETC is in contact with the wings, and we are constantly assessing needs. Our response will be needs-based."

Several AETC bases are already staging for anticipated operations.

Altus AFB, Okla., has C-5, C-17 and KC-135 aircraft on alert. According to Altus base officials, C-17s are also being launched to assist evacuation efforts in Beaumont, Texas.

At Little Rock AFB, Ark., 12 C-130 aircrews are also on alert, standing by to provide airlift support for evacuees. Once the order is given, Little Rock officials said aircrews and their planes can be in the air in three hours or less.

Lackland AFB, Texas, has been designated as the evacuation site for all military personnel on the Texas coast. Lackland is already housing more than 700 military members from around the Gulf Coast and is also providing shelter for more than 800 evacuees.

Additionally, Wilford Hall Medical Center's critical care teams are evacuating critically ill patients from the Beaumont area.

Randolph AFB is the staging area for search and recovery helicopters arriving from Air Force Special Operations Command and Air Force Space Command. The helicopters will perform search and rescue operations in affected areas, according to base officials.

Other bases across the command are providing varying degrees of support to include lodging, aircraft ramp space and logistical assistance.

Officials also stress that ongoing Katrina relief efforts will not adversely affect AETC's ability to respond to any requirements that arise from Rita. Overall, officials expect the Rita response effort to surpass the command's success with Katrina.

"We are putting forces in the field to battle the forces of nature," Major Caudill said. "Our people are ready, and we expect to see the same great performance from them we saw after Katrina."
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