Howard in the Navy: Hurricane Relief

- As you’re well aware the United States was hit by three major hurricanes last year: Harvey, Irma and Maria. 

Thousands of Americans left asking for help. And it came from the US Navy. Entire squadrons are at the ready to help when disaster strikes

“We’re heavily tasked. We’re always available for that on-call tasking,” said Maria Sabatino, who responded with her squadron to Texas. 

The call came in late August.  Houston and much of southern Texas was just hit with a category 4 hurricane. 

Back at Naval Station Norfolk the Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28 loaded up into MH-60S helicopters. It’s the Navy’s version of the Blackhawk. 

“We do tons of training flights and that requires a tons of maintenance so there’s a lot of working hours and to see it get put into play,” said Andrew Brake a hometown hero from Charlotte. 

They call themselves the Dragon Whales. 35 pilots and rescue swimmers responded to Harvey. They rescued 154 people. 

“Getting people back on their feet. Getting supplies, water all that kind of stuff,” said Sabatino. 

They also responded to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria hit and to Florida following Hurricane Irma. 

“To go save people, provide supplies and do logistic support down Keys after the hurricane was fulfilling,” said Brake who also responded to Florida. 

To document their recovery missions, many wear special patches. 

Despite how serious their job is, they still have a sense of humor. 

A lot of what we did was ferry people around. We’d pick some people up and then move them around like an Uber. Kind of like an Uber in the air. Just a joke from the hurricane,” said Kyle Coffey, a helicopter pilot. 

Their training though is no laughing matter. 

While at the naval station we boarded that same MH-60S.  

We toured the base. There in the water is the USS George H.W. Bush, USS Abraham Lincoln, and USS Harry S Truman. 

Norfolk looks like a sea of buildings. On a cold January day, the beaches were empty. Even as they take in the sights, they never know when the call will come. 

“The Navy is everywhere at once. It’s hard to think about, but we can honestly be pretty much everywhere. We’ve got guys operating off the coast of the Middle East, we’ve got guys operating underneath the ocean. We’ve got guys when hurricanes and disasters strike we’ve got guys there from the Navy,” said Rion Johnson, an aviation rescue swimmer.

These pieces highlight Howard's experience with our men and women in the United States Navy. They are written in the first person for that reason.

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