By Capt. Natalie Poggemeyer, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit
KEY WEST, Florida -- The Marines and Sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) aboard amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) wrapped up their relief efforts in Key West in the wake of Hurricane Irma, this week.
The blue-green team was on the ground in Key West for five days conducting Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA), assisting in relief efforts in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and state and local agencies.
During the relief efforts, CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 461 transported more than 58,000 pounds of relief supplies.
“All the pilots on board are overjoyed to help - the attitude is a resounding ‘let’s make it happen’,” said Capt. Michael Inzeo, a CH-53E pilot with HMH-461. This is the first time Inzeo has flown in support of a DSCA mission.
“This is a very dynamic mission, and everyone is eager to help, from one day transporting seven thousand pounds of water from an aircraft carrier to shore, to the next transporting passengers from ship to shore to clear roads and give out aid,” said Inzeo.
Marines and Sailors of the 26th MEU also distributed, by hand, approximately 10,000 gallons of water, thousands of Meals Ready-to-Eat (MREs) and other food items, and 25,000 pounds of ice, from different organizations involved, to citizens of Key West that were left without running water and electricity in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
“This is such a resilient community, even in a tough spot without power, water and sanitation,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Timothy, 26th MEU executive officer and senior Marine on the ground. “Going out and seeing the Marines interact with the folks of Key West, and help meet their basic needs, really impacted me.”
Alongside Sailors from Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group (EODGRU) 2 and Naval Air Station Key West, the Marines played a key role in helping the base become operational after the storm. An Air Traffic Control team from Marine Air Control Group (MACG) 28 controlled and coordinated more than 100 aircraft carrying personnel and supplies into and out of Boca Chica airfield. This in turn allowed the base to play a larger, more efficient role in assisting the local community.
In preparation for transition and handover to the National Guard and other local agencies, in coordination with FEMA, the Marines and Sailors cleaned up their equipment and staging areas aboard NAS Key West and returned to USS Iwo Jima. The transition included transporting wheeled vehicles, heavy equipment, water purification and storage systems, communications equipment and hundreds of Marines and Sailors via U.S. Marine Corps CH-53Es, U.S. Navy MH-60S Seahawk helicopters and LCUs.
“This mission was both personally and professionally rewarding,” Timothy said. “It was a different mission than we’re used to, but we’re always prepared for it. The most rewarding part was the fact that we were able to help our fellow Americans in their time of need.”