USAF Decision Puts Gulf Coast Lives in Danger

12 05 2012

Governor Rick Perry of the State of Texas and Governor Phil Bryant of the State of Mississippi are making it known that they are none too happy about a pending plan to move C-130 airplanes based in Fort Worth to a base in Montana.  The governors are upset because the C-130 planes have been used to move patients to safety when the Gulf Coast has been threatened by hurricanes, such as Hurricane Ike and Hurricane Gustav.  An opinion column, co-written by the Governors, was published by The Washington Times, on Wednesday May 9, 2012.  The primary point of the article is that redeploying these aircraft is a needless waste of money and puts residents of Texas, Mississippi, and other Gulf Coast residents at risk.  The article is below:

As Hurricane Ike neared the Texas coast in 2008, hundreds of hospital patients and nursing home residents were in harm’s way, facing a difficult escape from the storm’s path. That’s when the C-130s of the 136th Air- lift Wing, based in Fort Worth, Texas, went into action. That year, for the first time in U.S. history, C-130s were used to help move patients to safety ahead of a storm’s arrival. In all, between Hurricanes Ike and Gustav, also in 2008, 800 people were airlifted to safety.

The same planes were among the first to arrive following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, bringing much-needed supplies and National Guard troops to areas devastated by the storm. If a plan being put in place by the U.S. Air Force is allowed to go into effect, that sort of mutual assistance among our Gulf Coast states could be a thing of the past.

Under the USAFForceStructureChanges, issued in February, eight National Guard C-130s currently based in Fort Worth would be relocated to Montana, far from a Gulf Coast – and its population of millions – extremely vulnerable to hurricanes, tornadoes and floods. We don’t have any opposition to basing Air National Guard assets in Montana, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of the safety of the residents of the Gulf states.

As long as these assets are based in Texas, they are available with a simple phone call between governors, ready to fly across the state or into other states under Emergency Management Assistance Compacts.

Put simply, the sort of assistance the Air National Guard C-130s currently can provide within hours would take days, or longer, to arrive at a time when every minute could mean the difference between life and death.

Just a quick look at the numbers tells the tale of the value of these assets to Gulf Coast states. Since 2005, the 136th Airlift Wing’s C-130s have:

*Flown 423 storm response sorties in coastal states.

*Logged 567 hours of flight time.

*Transported 3,143 passengers.

*Delivered 939 tons of emergency supplies.

What can’t be qualified so easily is the suffering eased by a warm blanket, the comfort given by a hot meal and the unparalleled joy of a family reunited. That’s what this airlift wing has meant to the residents of the Gulf states, and to relocate these assets 1,000 miles inland – to an area that faces few of the types of threats we do – makes little practical sense and even less financial sense.

Estimates of the costs of the move, including new training for ground personnel and the construction of new facilities, have been set as high as $75 million or more. That’s a huge waste of taxpayer money at a time of historic national debt. What’s worse, for a two-year transitional period while people are trained and facilities are built, these valuable assets essentially will be deleted from our national inventory. As Gulf Coast governors, we know firsthand how much damage can be done in two years.

We also have to give consideration to our first responders, who will be losing a valuable and important link in their supply chain, making their job of saving lives that much harder and more hazardous.

Since the Air Force plan was introduced in February, governors and their adjutant generals have attempted tirelessly to negotiate a compromise with senior leadership at the Defense Department to mitigate the drastic and unjustified cuts to the Air National Guard. In fact, in a letter dated March 5, we raised this issue with President Obama directly, hoping he would personally instruct the Air Force to alter its course. Unfortunately, the needs of the Gulf Coast states have fallen on deaf ears, as we still have received no response.

Last month, the Defense Department offered what it considered a compromise, with vague promises of reduced staff cuts and the nonspecific deployment of 24 C-130s currently slated for decommission because of age and safety concerns. We’ve rejected this offer, and the Air Force has conceded that its proposal fell far short of what our states need.

We are continuing to call upon Congress to reverse this decision and keep these indispensable assets where they’re needed most – manned and supported by experienced personnel and operated by people who know and understand the specific challenges of dealing with emergencies along the Gulf Coast.

Anything less than that is a horrible mistake that needlessly places many lives in danger.

Dan Rather honored for ground-breaking hurricane coverage

29 04 2012

Here is the story reported by Doug Miller on KHOU 11 News Houston on April 27, 2012:

In a neighborhood park on Galveston’s east end, a small crowd gathered Friday morning to plant a tree for Arbor Day.

A few dignitaries and volunteers spoke about restoring the island’s tree canopy, much of which was lost in Hurricane Ike. Galveston’s always affable Mayor Joe Jaworski offered a few remarks. Then he introduced an 80 year-old man standing in the crowd, a squinting fellow with gray hair and a hearing aid and a weathered face that looked familiar, especially to people of a certain age.

“Dan Rather, you are a legend in America,” the mayor said, as he read a proclamation declaring this Arbor Day also Dan Rather Day in Galveston.

The old reporter had returned to the scene of one of his biggest stories. A half-century ago, his riveting reports from inside the Weather Bureau office in Galveston warned Texans about a monstrous storm called Hurricane Carla. He literally changed the way the world sees hurricanes, convincing Weather Bureau officials to allow the first broadcast of live radar images showing the massive storm system churning toward the Texas coastline.

“What I remember was how huge it was,” Rather recalled. “That’s number one. And number two, I remember the moment when I saw for the first time the radar picture of the hurricane. It literally took my breath away.”

Ghostly black-and-while television pictures preserved from that week in September 1961 show Rather, who was then news director of KHOU Channel 11, reading weather bulletins about the approaching storm.

“Evacuation should be hastened before it is too late,” he said, as Galveston forecasters bustled around him. The technology was so primitive, a Weather Bureau official resorted to scrawling on a piece of paper in an attempt to teach the television audience about the now familiar pattern of rain bands swirling around a hurricane.

“I wonder if you could explain this business about the eye of the hurricane,” Rather asked, knowing that people watching on television had never before seen such a thing. (He pronounced it not “HER-uh-cane” but “HER-uh-cun.”)

Government officials were wary of showing radar pictures on television, especially superimposed over a map of the coastline that emphasized the mammoth storm’s size. But Rather helped persuade them it would save lives. 

“I among others told them, listen, Texans have a lot of flaws and failures, they have their problems, but Texans don’t panic,” he said. “Texas are hard to herd, impossible to stampede.”

The ominous radar images of the hurricane churning toward the coastline played a huge role in persuading—maybe scaring—an estimated 350,000 people to evacuate their homes. At the time, it was considered the biggest weather-related evacuation in American history. 

Carla may well have been the most intense Atlantic storm ever to strike the United States when it slammed into the Galveston seawall. Forecasters believe it was even more intense than the 1900 storm that killed an estimated 6,000 people in Galveston, which remains the deadliest natural disaster in American history.

And yet, only 46 people died during Carla. A government report on the storm later credited KHOU’s telecasts with saving countless lives.

It also propelled Rather into the national eye, catching the attention of Walter Cronkite, who’s reputed to recommend CBS News hire his fellow Houston reporter who was “up to his ass in water moccasins.” 

Today, after his contentious parting with CBS, Rather continues producing award-winning documentaries for HDNet, whose fledgling news operation he compares to the days when he pioneered television news at KHOU.

“I don’t quit,” he says. “I teach my children and grandchildren Rathers don’t quit.”