AMLOs role crucial during hurricane responses

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in September, followed shortly after by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in the U.S. and Caribbean Islands, the air mobility liaison officers of the 621st Contingency Response Wing were called upon to help with the relief efforts.

These hurricanes caused more than $340 billion of damage and killed more than 250 people. As part of the hurricane response efforts, four AMLOs deployed to St Croix, St Thomas, Dominica, and Puerto Rico in support of the Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and Maria humanitarian relief missions. Their work has aided in landing 987 aircraft, delivering 11,757 short tons of cargo, and transporting 7,392 personnel during the relief efforts.

“In garrison, AMLOs normally deal with operational and strategic requirements for their assigned corps, division, or marine expeditionary force, and are also able to provide a tactical insight as well during exercises,” said Capt. Charles Coburn, 621st Mission Support Operations Squadron AMLO stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. “In a deployed environment, we do much of the same thing but for an entire theater and work with joint staffs.”

During the hurricane relief efforts, the AMLOs provide theater-level support for the Joint Force Land, Maritime, and Air Components, Director of Mobility Forces, and 18th Air Force. They gather information from a variety of sources and make recommendations on the best air transportation practices within theater.

According to Coburn, what the AMLOs have done for the hurricane support, is similar to what they have been doing in U.S. Central Command for years.

“The only real difference is that whereas AMLOs normally advise, train, and assist the military units we are normally assigned to, we are now also providing that expertise to civilian entities like FEMA who are now using Air Force assets to provide assistance,” he said.

Lt. Col. Jason Clark, 621st MSOS AMLO, stated that one of the biggest challenges has been the lack of reliable communications throughout the island [Puerto Rico], making it difficult for information to get to those who need it.

“Part of our job has been to quickly go wherever eyes-on assessments have been needed, and report back using our remote communications capability,” Clark said. “This was especially important to 18th AF, the Director of Mobility Forces staff, the 601st Air Operations Center and FEMA early on so they could send additional relief forces and supplies. Working with Airmen from the AMOS providing command and control for U.S. Northern Command in addition to the contingency response forces getting the airfields up and running, we’ve been able to transition to helping the Joint Forces Land Component Commander staff with other aspects of the distribution system.”

Clark said that it is important to understand how all aspects of distribution tie together.

“There are a lot of critical steps in the process of getting supplies here by aircraft or ship, then onto trucks or helicopters, and then finally into the hands of those who need them,” Clark said. “AMLOs and contingency response forces have had to work with a host of agencies to try to help make that process work better.”

For Clark, he knew this particular mission was going to be challenging.

“When you meet people face-to-face and hear their stories, it makes you see the seriousness of this [hurricane devastation] in a deeper way,” Clark said. “There are a lot of people here [Puerto Rico] who are going way outside their normal lanes to do anything they can to help.”

The CRW continues to support the hurricane relief operations at multiple nodes throughout the U.S. AMLOs will remain embedded with their Army and Marine Corps partners to continue to provide air mobility support in Puerto Rico, back at their joint home stations, and wherever needed in the days ahead.