SAN ANTONIO – Chinook helicopter pilot Chief Warrant Officer 4 Ryan Dechent has spent nearly 17 years in the military, but as he and his crew prepared for takeoff at Kelly Field Sunday, he faced a new mission.
"This is the first time I've had the opportunity to support the citizens of the United States instead of going overseas," he said.
As part of Task Force Iron Eagles, Dechent's and another Chinook crew from the 1st Armored Division, Combat Aviation Brigade were tasked with bringing water to residents in Chambers County to the east of Houston. Normally out of Fort Bliss in El Paso, the helicopter crews are temporarily in San Antonio to help with the Harvey recovery efforts.
The task force includes the 11th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade, and until Sunday, the Navy's HM-14 Squadron as well, said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Steve Donahue Jr., the task force's command chief warrant officer. Their mission, he said, includes medevacs and moving supplies or people.
"Our sole purpose in life is to be able to protect our nation, and that's not always against foreign and domestic enemies. It also goes through in as a humanitarian effort," Donahue said.
Leaving from Kelly field, the two Chinook crews picked up six pallets of water each from the FEMA Incident Support Base at Randolph Air Force Base in Seguin.
FEMA has shipped about 4.9 million bottles of water to Texas's rescue and recovery efforts. Most of the water is distributed by trucks, but the helicopters are faster than trucks and can get to hard-to-reach locations.
As they flew over Houston and into Chambers County, the Chinook crews got a bird's-eye view of the devastation into which they were flying.
"Seeing all of their personal effects essentially out on their front yard as they're lining up trash and then areas to go ahead and get their houses dried out is was very humbling." Dechent said.
As they unloaded the water on the ground at the Chambers County Airport in Anahuac, though, they had an even better look at the grateful residents of they were helping.
"The good ol' USA when you need 'em right," laughed Peggy Rowland as she watched the Chinooks unload the water.
Each of the pallets of bottled water make a big difference for the community, where thousands of homes have had water damage, causing unsanitary conditions. The county's last pallets of water had just been sent out for distribution prior to the helicopters' arrival, so it was a timely delivery.
It was also a much preferred form of water from the sky.