By Mr. Joel Langton, 47th Flying Training Wing
/ Published February 23, 2021
LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Tx -- An unprecedented storm dubbed Winter Storm Yuri, blew through southwest this past week, leaving Del Rio, Texas, a small border town on the ropes with many of its residents without electricity and little, if any, running water.
The county’s leadership knew the situation was dire and wanted to get help on the way. Few vehicles had traversed the remote highways connecting Del Rio to San Antonio and San Angelo, but they needed emergency aid fast.
Any bit of relief was a help, as grocery store shelves sat bare and lines for gasoline were going around the block with people waiting for hours. Wind chills hovered around zero and there had been nearly a foot of snow on the ground. People’s expensive vehicles were now car chargers and warming stations more than being used for transportation.
Lewis Owens, Val Verde county judge, reached out to Laughlin Air Force Base’s leadership to see if there was a chance a relief aircraft could land at Laughlin Air Force Base.
“At the point we called and asked for help, we had no potable water in our system,” Owens said.
Colonel Craig Prather, 47th Flying Training commander gave Owens a quick yes and Team XL had about eight hours to plan and execute receiving a C-130H Hercules from the 136th Airlift Wing in Fort Worth, Texas. With the county on a boil notice and as water was still only trickling through the city’s pipes the mission sought to bring 38,000 pounds of water to the region.
“We had the capability to land it at Del Rio’s airport but we’d have had to unload it by hand,” Owens said. “That would have taken awhile in the cold and would have slowed down our efforts helping people. Laughlin’s airfield was our best option.”
The task that would have taken hours, took less than half an hour thanks to Team XL who had a team that was ready to receive and unload the relief flight.
“Less than 48 hours after a historic snow event, Team XL and Del Rio mission partners, expertly handled this mission.” said Lt. Col. Trent Brower, 47th Operations Support Squadron commander, whose team was key to helping get the aircraft unloaded and sent on its way to deliver more relief supplies throughout the frozen state. “From air traffic controllers, air field managers, radar, airfield and weather systems technicians and weather forecasters, I am proud of how everyone came together to ensure this mission was a success”.
The plane gently touched down on the flight line at 10:15 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, never killed its four 4,300 horsepower engines, positioned itself in front of Base Operations as Team XL and conducted an Engine Running Offload (ERO) in 23 minutes.
Captain Dave Ruthenbeck, aircraft commander for the mission, had plenty of familiarity with Laughlin’s flight line as he graduated with his wings June 14, 2013, as part of Laughlin’s Class 13-10.
“We made awesome friends and forged relationships in this wonderful Texas town, Ruthenbeck said. “As a Texas Air National Guard member, not only do we answer the nation’s call, we also answer the call of the great State of Texas.”
For the community, it meant the world.
“This shipment of water helped us make sure that so many in our community and region had what they needed to get through this time,” Owens said.