Virginia aviators deliver needed supplies to icebound Tangier Island

Virginia National Guard aviation crews aboard two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters pick up and deliver food, mail and medicine Jan. 6, 2018, to icebound Tangier Island, Virginia. (Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)

TANGIER ISLAND, Va. — Virginia National Guard aviation crews aboard two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters delivered much-needed supplies to icebound Tangier Island, Virginia, Jan. 6, 2018. Six Soldiers, all assigned to the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, participated in the resupply mission and helped to deliver food, medicine and mail to the residents of Tangier. Typically, island residents receive routine seaport deliveries but frigid, record-breaking temperatures in Virginia made those deliveries impossible.

“With the bad weather, Tangier was cut off from the rest of the state,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Hernandez, the Virginia National Guard’s director for strategic plans and policy. “Our helicopters reconnected the island and kept the supplies flowing.”

The two helicopters and their crews departed from Richmond International Airport on the afternoon of Jan. 6 and headed to Crisfield, Maryland, to pick up supplies. First responders from the Crisfield Fire Department helped load the supplies and then the aviators headed off to Tangier Island, located in the Chesapeake Bay, to deliver their first load. From there, the helicopters flew to Accomack County Airport to refuel, then picked up another load of supplies in Crisfield and again dropped the goods at Tangier Island before returning to Sandston.

“I’m extremely proud of all of our aviation folks for their flexibility, responsiveness, and professionalism in responding to state emergency requests,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Warfield, state aviation officer for the Virginia National Guard. “They continue to amaze me with their ability to quickly react to changing requirements while successfully supporting all assigned missions.”

Warfield explained that the Soldiers received initial notification on the possibility of a resupply mission for Tangier Island on the afternoon of Jan. 4. On Jan. 5, a U.S. Coast Guard cutter was able to get to the island, but was unable to deliver the full supply load and was then diverted to assist elsewhere, according to Hernandez, who assisted in planning the mission. He said the mission request came from the emergency manager in Accomack County and that the decision to move forward with the aerial resupply happened after the Coast Guard’s initial supply drop.

Virginia National Guard aviation crews aboard two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters pick up and deliver food, mail and medicine Jan. 6, 2018, to icebound Tangier Island, Virginia. (Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)

As soon as aviation staff at the Army Aviation Support Facility in Sandston, Virginia, received word of the possible mission, they started planning. They identified available crews, outlined the flight route, timeline and determined possible refuel locations. Airmen from the Virginia Air National Guard’s 200th Weather Flight provided weather forecasting support to the crews in order to assist with the planning process.

“The availability of aviation fuel was a major planning factor, as most of the airports in the vicinity of Tangier Island were closed due to the winter storms,” Warfield said. He explained that with many of the airports closed, assessing their availability was a challenge. Additionally, the cold air and water temperatures along with the overwater aspect of the mission required additional planning considerations.

“The destination and flight route included several overwater legs, which added aviation life support equipment requirements for the crew. This included water wings and exposure suits, which are not worn for most of our training and operational missions,” Warfield said.

Warrant Officer 1 Jacob Lang, who participated in the resupply mission, is one of Virginia’s newest pilots.

“I really enjoyed this,” Lang said. “This is one of the reasons why I joined the National Guard, the state mission, and being able to support our local communities is definitely one of the cooler parts of the job.”

Flight crews from the Virginia National Guard flew a similar mission in 2015, when freezing temperatures iced-in Tangier Island for almost a full week.

In addition to the resupply mission to Tangier Island, the Virginia National Guard had more than 100 personnel on state active duty in the Hampton Roads and Eastern Shore areas starting on Jan. 3. The Soldiers, Airmen and members of the Virginia Defense Force provided assistance to state and local authorities, transporting first responders and essential emergency services employees, serving as command and control elements, helping stranded motorists and assisting in emergency response.

Virginia National Guard aviation crews aboard two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters pick up and deliver food, mail and medicine Jan. 6, 2018, to icebound Tangier Island, Virginia. Six Soldiers assigned to Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment participated in the mission, flying first to Crisfield, Maryland, to pick up supplies, then on to the 1.2-square-mile island of Tangier, located in the Chesapeake Bay. Following their first delivery to the island, air crews stopped for fuel at the Accomack County Airport in Virginia and headed back out for round two, again picking up supplies in Crisfield and delivering them to Tangier Island. (Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)