When Hurricane Matthew struck the southeastern United States in 2016, a locally-based group flew in to help, as they did when Hurricane Sandy struck the Eastern Seaboard in 2012.
Now as the devastation from Wednesday’s landfall of Hurricane Michael becomes evident in northern Florida, the pilots stand ready to respond once again.
Lt. Col. Andrew “Andy” Welch, a spokesman for the United States Air Force’s civilian auxiliary, commonly known as the Civil Air Patrol, said Illinois members continue training for the possibility they will be called in to assist.
Welch, speaking from the Illinois Wing’s headquarters in eastern Will County, said the group is made up of 1,150 cadets and seniors in 27 squadrons stationed throughout the state. He said they’re experienced in working with federal and state emergency management agencies as well as county sheriff’s offices in stricken areas.
Civil Air Patrol assistance ranges from moving food, drinkable water and other necessities to land-based activities such as filling and moving sandbags. The Illinois Wing also specializes in providing aerial photos of affected areas.
Along with Hurricane Matthew, the Category 5 Atlantic hurricane that devastated the southeastern United States and Hurricane Sandy, whose trail of damage from New Jersey north to Connecticut in 2012 was further aggravated by the presence of high tides, the the Illinois Wing also deployed after Hurricane Katrina, another Category 5 hurricane that caused catastrophic damage in 2005 along the Gulf coast from central Florida to Texas.
While the the Illinois Wing is ready to fly to Florida, and last month was prepared to fly to North Carolina in response to flooding caused by Hurricane Florence, Welch said Civil Air Patrol groups from states closest to a disaster are called out first.
But even though they haven’t yet been called, that doesn’t mean they won’t be summoned to help.
“We have crews and personnel signed up” he said. “At some point, they may need us – particularly if they have a second event.
“We stand ready to help our not-so-near neighbors.”
More often, though, the Illinois Wing is called to action for closer events, such as when the Mississippi or Ohio rivers flood. The pilots flew to southern Illinois to assist in response to flooding in May 2017 along the Mississippi, Illinois and Big Muddy rivers.
In the meantime, members continue to maintain skills, participating in training such as a state search-exercise for missing aircraft and persons in September and overseeing glider orientation flights at Bult Field, located roughly midway between Beecher and Monee.
The group, which also has a unit based at Lansing Municipal Airport along with several in other areas of the state, also focuses on cadet training and aerospace education, but remains ready to deploy if needed.
“We always stand ready to support our state and nation,” Welch said.