by Timothy Chipp
The Tonawanda News
TOWN OF NIAGARA — In the face of national disaster, 75 members of the 107th Airlift Wing stationed at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station decided they needed to help in any way they could.
Tuesday, they went to the New York City area to once again help with hurricane relief efforts, this time following Sandy’s destruction.
“Last night, watching the coverage of the storm, it was awful,” First Lt. Cory Bota, one of the wing’s volunteers, said. “Last year, we were there to help with Hurricane Irene ... and we’re happy to assist again.”
Details of the wing’s mission as members of the Air National Guard aren’t known as the scene they encounter in New York City when they arrive will determine what’s needed. But wing commanding officer Col. Jim McCready said his forces could assist with anything from helping New York Police Department with patrols to cleaning up roads and rescue operations.
It’s also unknown at this time how long the unit will remain as conditions will also determine the length of their stay.
McCready said helping with hurricane relief in any way is the intention of the guard and his members stepped up in the wake of record devastation in the country’s most populated city.
“This is the natural mission for the guard,” he said. “This is what we do. It’s part of our domestic mission to help out in these circumstances.”
The mission took his crew from the Niagara airbase to Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, N.Y., where they’ll take a bus to Fort Smith outside Peekskill in hard-hit Westchester County. They were expected to arrive around 8 p.m. Tuesday.
They’re part of a 2,290-member force ordered to duty by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to respond to the storm.
The unit was activated this past weekend in preparation for the storm but was kept on standby until after the storm came ashore, which it did Monday afternoon off the south New Jersey shore.
The weather system, described as a 200-year storm by many meteorologists, had less of an effect in Western New York Monday evening than originally forecasted, which McCready said freed his unit to assist the New York City area. If things had been different, he said, Buffalo could have been an area in need as well.
“Everything was unknown about the storm,” he said. “We may have been the ones in need of the help. But we’re glad to help.”
About 10 percent of the unit is involved in the mission, McCready said, with many part-timers among the volunteers.
For some of those volunteers, like Lt. Col. Ken Kieliszek, it’s just another chance to help people in desperate need. He helped after 9/11 and again after Irene last year. This marks the third trip to The Big Apple to assist after disasters.
“It gives me a great sense of pride to help out other New York state residents,” he said. “It’s a great feeling to know when others need help, we’re able to provide it.”
While many of those on the relief mission have assisted before, others like Airman First Class Stephanie Rosten haven’t. This marks the relative newcomer’s first mission with the wing, one she said she’s looking forward to because she wants to help like everyone else.
“I’ve seen a lot of the coverage on the news,” she said. “It’s just tragic. My heart goes out to all those families. We all feel very bad. So we’re expecting the worst but hoping to help.”