WASHINGTON D.C., DC --
Before the attacks on the U.S. Capitol Building took place in January and the mass deployment of more National Guard forces, a small team of Hawaii Air National Guard Airmen relocated to Washington D.C., starting December 28, 2020, to provide logistical support for the Presidential Inauguration.
Following a peaceful transfer of power and the reductions of forces, six members of the 154th Logistics Readiness Squadron are still there, providing 24/7 support for remaining personnel.
The team of Hawaii Airmen joined vehicle operators from around the nation to augment the 113th LRS’s Ground Transportation Flight at Joint Base Andrews.
“Our original plan was focused on shuttling delegates, service members and all the additional supplies normally needed for an inauguration,” said Chief Master Sgt. Edward Tang, an augmented vehicle operations NCO-in charge. “But when things got wild, everything ramped up; it transformed our efforts into Operation Capital Response. We were able to oversee the big transportation moves and then we caught the beginning of the reinforcements.”
As U.S. governors began sending security and support packages to D.C., logistics responsibilities and taskings multiplied several times over. The small ground transportation team grew to more than 50 personnel and was charged to track, transport, organize and provide equipment support for tens of thousands of inbound personnel.
Tang said cargo-filled aircraft poured in around-the-clock and seemed to arrive at a non-stop pace. Each team of responders required constant transportation, along with truckloads of supportive equipment movements, to deliver and store food, water, body armor and armaments.
The high demand for transportation grew to a scale far greater than what the Airmen had previously experienced at their home stations, requiring vehicle operators to quickly obtain certifications for larger passenger vehicles and learn how to operate them safely in an unfamiliar environment. Members were constantly challenged to adapt to below-freezing conditions, ice-covered and narrow passages, snowed-in vehicles, and routinely navigating road closures.
“I’ve worked in cold conditions like this in Korea, but this was just a whole different animal,” said Tech. Sgt. Jose Molestina, Hawaii ANG vehicle operations augmentee. “As far as I could tell, no one here has really gone through something like this before, but we still take it one day at a time and always make the most out of what we have. As a ‘tech-sergeant,’ you’re always trying to show other Airmen new ways to solve problems and teach them how to quickly adapt on the fly.”
One adverse-weather scenario required a response team of vehicle operators to manually free out three trailers and a tow vehicle entrenched by ice. Senior Airman Nainoa Kahauolopua, a Hawaii ANG vehicle operations augmentee, was on the three-person team who helped recover, assess and un-lodge the equipment.
“Every day, there’s always something new to overcome, and it’s a lot of excitement for my first ‘TDY’ (temporary duty assignment),” said Kahauolopua. “Yes, the weather has been tough on us out here; some of us are wearing about seven layers of clothing, and I’m always shivering like a chihuahua. But we keep pushing to get the job done in the safest way possible and get our vehicles where they need to be on time. The important thing is that we’ve got a great team looking out for each other, and I know that whatever I’m going through, someone always has my back.”
While the logistics Airmen were specifically tasked to deliver ground transportation, three Hawaii guardsmen hailed from the vehicle-maintenance career field. They were able to apply their maintenance skills throughout their deployment. Not only did their maintenance expertise help to save local manpower resources that would otherwise be sourced out from the installation, but it enabled vehicle operators to make repairs on-the-spot and ensure timely deliveries on several occasions.
Based on the task-at-hand, transportation Airmen frequently alternated between 10-Ton Wreckers, 44-passenger busses and towing of 40-foot trailers throughout D.C. and neighboring states, such as Maryland and Virginia.
By early February, the National Guard’s continued presence in the D.C. area was reduced significantly due to a lowered state of national security needs. With the reduction of forces, the 113th Ground Transpiration Flight dropped down to 14 operational members, including six Hawaii Airmen who continue to support the remainder of personnel on the flight line and throughout the local area.
With a string of potential hazards, ranging from adverse road conditions, freezing temperatures and the presence of an ongoing outbreak, Molestina said he was thankful that members managed to support their federal mission while staying clear of any potential incidents.
There are few occasions outside of technical school training and operational deployments, enabling Airmen to work closely with so many counterparts assigned to units around the nation. According to Tang, the past two months have offered a wealth of experiences that will serve the Airmen and their peers throughout the remainder of their careers.
“It’s been such a short period of time,” said Tang, “but a lot of these guys have been through a lot together and have made such good friends. Especially for the younger ones, who will be hearing each other’s names for years and years to come. Now, they’re more experienced than ever, and they know who they can reach out to when we are working with partners in other states. This builds big-time networking for everyone involved and that is priceless.”