As residents along the Pee Dee River Basin brace for the flooded river to rise a second time, the 334th Air Expeditionary Group is standing by at Joint Base Charleston.
“We have rescue forces here at Charleston Air Force Base here in South Carolina for a relief effort, if needed,” Group Commander Col. Bryan Creel said. “We also have forces back at Moody Air Force Base and also in Summerville, South Carolina, providing pararescue forces and boats as well.”
State emergency officials are concerned water flowing into the Pee Dee River system from North Carolina could create catastrophic flooding as it makes its way into South Carolina waterways, keeping the possibility around for more rescue teams to be called upon.
The 334th rescue team has been in Charleston since Saturday but, as of Wednesday, have not yet been called to respond. Col. Creel said this mission is different for the team as they arrived and staged before they were called to rescue, which makes their response time faster.
“We’ve kind of responded as the state say that they need help,” he said. “In this case, we wanted to form a unit and put that unit in place… To do it this way provides a much faster response instead of waiting for a state to say that they need help.”
Airmen with the 23rd Wing of Moody Air Force Base include pararescuemen, survival specialists and boat teams, HC-130J Combat King IIs, HH-60G Pavehawks, aircrew and support personnel.
The team has yet to be called to a rescue for the Florence aftermath, but Creel says it shows how well the emergency response has been coordinated at the state level.
“All of the state forces have done a great job responding to everything,” he said. “Really, we just have not been needed yet. But, of course, we’re still ready to help.”
The Total Force Integration effort includes active duty and Reserve Airmen from Moody’s 23rd Wing along with the 920th Rescue Wing from Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, the 51st Combat Communication Squadron of Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, and the Air Force Office of Test and Evaluation of Hurlburt Field Air Force Base in Florida. The units have been integrated and activated to form one expeditionary search and rescue unit, the 334th Air Expeditionary Group.
“We do this for a living,” Creel said. “We are here for rescue.”
Creel said units from the group are doing the same operations overseas.
“I have units that are deployed overseas and they’re doing the same thing there that we’re prepared to do here just for a different reason,” he said. “But we’re still doing the same thing. We’re doing rescue.”
Creel said the group’s motto says it all: “These things we do that others may live.”