Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Total disconnect

Albert Haynesworth is being paid $100 million over seven years to play a game. And after his offseason of complaining and refusingto practice during mini-camp, he isn't playing that game very well anymore.

So he went on a Washington radio station and made one of the dumbest and most asinine comments I have ever heard. He's bitter and clinging to his guns and religion because the Redskins want him to play a different defensive scheme than he was accustomed to in previous years. I don't have a lot to say about this idiot because I'll let his own words do all the talking.

"Just because somebody pay you money don't mean they'll make you do whatever they want or whatever. I mean, does that mean everything is for sale?" Haynesworth said last week. "I mean, I'm not for sale. Yeah, I signed the contract and got paid a lot of money, but ... that don't mean I'm for sale or a slave or whatever."

No, you're not a slave. You get paid for what you supposedly do for a living. But you WERE for sale two years ago when you signed that record-breaking contract with the Redskins. They may not own your soul, but they are paying you enough money to tell you what to do while at the office

Monday, September 27, 2010

Radio killed the radio star

This wasn't the first time "they" pulled the plug on Stan and Guy. But once again, Pittsburgh is left without the most trusted men in Yinzer sports.

ESPN Sports Radio 1250 will cease to exist after this week because Mickey and Minnie decided that childish radio shows such as Hannah Montana will somehow be more lucrative in this cradle of sports than, well, sports. I knew something wasn't right while driving to the grocery store yesterday morning and 1250 had a national feed talking about the Cowboys instead of the Steelers. Really? The freaking Cowboys! I immediately turned the dial to NPR to find something more interesting.

But this was just a precursor to the real tragedy. ESPN Radio is pulling out of Pittsburgh and firing the entire staff. I ridiculed Ken Laird earlier this year when he erroneously predicted the end of the Bruce Arians era. However, I still think he is a good reporter with excellent insight on the Steelers. Hopefully he will be able to catch on with another radio station in the region.

This decision to end Pittsburgh's most prominent sports radio station is just another example of the demise of journalism. Whether it be newspapers that try to offer token services on their websites or radio stations that can't compete with bare bones staff, it's clear that the viewer/reader/listener no longer wants to pay for his/her services.

And that makes me sad, because this isn't the first time sports fans have faced cutbacks. Fox Sports Pittsburgh neutered us two years ago when they ended SportsBeat and the Steelers postgame coverage. For some bizarre reason, they kept the postgame show of the Triple-A team that currently plays at PNC Park.

There is no such thing as a free lunch, and this decision by Mickey Mouse proves that fact. We do not want to pay for news, but we are quickly realizing that the only free services we can find nowadays are barren news pages and dead airwaves.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Pittsburgh: Home of the Truthiness

I couldn't stop laughing while watching last night's "The Daily Show" and "Colbert Report" on Comedy Central. Those two nuts, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, announced they are hosting competing rallies in the shadow of the Washington Monument on 10-30-10. It's a big joke, but I imagine thousands will attend (including me) in a defiant gesture that there are millions of us out there who are sick of the rancor going around America like a bad case of the swine flu.

After weeks of hearing doomsday clown Glenn Beck constantly blabbering about his Restoring Honor rally, I assumed it was only natural that the professional comedians launched their own rally.

So a few weeks ago, someone from The Series of Tubes launched a website to push Colbert into hosting a "Restoring Truthiness" rally on 10-10-10. It blew up on Facespace and the Twatter like you wouldn't believe. But what we didn't know was that it was the work of a Yinzer to get the faux conservative pundit and his Comedy Central pal/rival to organize a real event in D.C.

Joseph Laughlin, 28, of Pittsburgh, made the pioneering suggestion last month on Reddit. "I've had a vision and I can't shake it," he said when others begin chirping about a response to Beck. "Colbert needs to hold a satirical rally in DC."

It turned into an Internet sensation that has raised a quarter-million dollars for charity. It also pushed the comedians into a corner where they had no choice BUT to rally their troops. Colbert begged his viewers last week to stop sending him live doves and Beanie Babies after Laughlin's website encouraged just that.

I don't know how many people will show up for the Rally to Restore Sanity when it collides on Oct. 30 with the March to Keep Fear Alive. But I'm proud to say one of our own helped to bring the Colbert Nation and Daily Show news junkies on a collision course that very well could bring the end of days.

Well done, Mr. Laughlin. You've made the Steel City proud.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Our broken government

While watching the Senate primary results roll in from Delaware, I couldn't help but wonder how broken is our government? The fact that Christine O'Donnell could win the Republic nomination with just 30,000 votes -- less than the number of people at PNC Park for a SkyBlast -- and could eventually decide such a powerful position is astounding to me. Sure, she still must win in the general election, but how could someone with such poor qualifications get the nod for such an important position?

It makes me wonder why we still allow a bicameral federal legislative body. Why should we give 30,000 people -- just 3 percent of the entire population of Delaware and a micro-fraction of the American population -- an opportunity to be 1/100 votes in the U.S. Senate? That means people in smaller states have much more voting power than people living in larger states such as Pennsylvania.

The founders decided on the bicameral government to give both small and big states equal representation. But it's becoming increasingly clear that the minority in dime-size states has an overwhelming voice in our government.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Super view from the Cardinals section

With gold towels whipping and ear-throbbing cheers following each Steelers touchdown, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., felt more like Heinz Field South than a neutral site.

But two hearty souls sitting in the Steelers' end zone directly behind the uprights found themselves stuck in enemy territory surrounded by fans draped in crimson and white.

The fourth quarter might have looked bleak for Steelers Nation, especially for my father and I stationed in the suddenly raucous Section 123, but Super Bowl XLIII became one of the best experiences of our lives.

I never before gave one thought to attending a Super Bowl. The cost and pageantry of the whole thing made it seem like an impossible journey. But my dad, Howard, who lives three hours away in Jacksonville, Fla., somehow scored a pair of the prized tickets and we quickly planned our hectic itinerary.

That glorious Sunday morning began with the two of us hiking to the roof level of a dank parking garage just a few hundred yards from the stadium. By 10 a.m., it already was packed with Western Pennsylvanians partying and kicking back Iron City beers. Strangers from far-flung areas -- Butler, Somerset, Cambria, Center and Dauphin counties -- instantly became close neighbors.

Three hours before kickoff, we left our tailgate and walked to the stadium anticipating heavy security. We snaked our way through the line and made it to the metal detectors, where security momentarily stopped me for unknowingly smuggling in a $1 bag of peanuts. They immediately confiscated my salted contraband and set me free.

We sat down in our seats to soak up the scene before introducing ourselves to a few Arizonans staggering to their spot a row away. It didn't take long for us to realize we would be surrounded.

After initial jubilation from a couple Pittsburgh scores, the game and the atmosphere in our section began to change. Arizona appeared poised to score at the end of the first half and I turned to my father and suggested the ideal scenario would be a game-tying field goal. But my dad refuted that pessimistic prediction.

"Best-case scenario is a pick-six," he said.

Then it happened.

A Steeler stepped in front of quarterback Kurt Warner's pass and the players rushed down field toward our seats. I didn't immediately know who intercepted the pass until a few seconds later when my eyes fixated on linebacker James Harrison's unmistakable figure lumbering down the sideline.

What eventually would be a 100-yard touchdown return turned into an 18-second cage match brawl. Steelers defenders formed a convoy around Harrison, blasting every Cardinal with the audacity to attempt to prevent the greatest defensive play in Super Bowl history. The blocking was ferocious and players' bodies littered the field from either exhaustion, pain or exhilaration.

When Harrison rose to his feet a few minutes later, he was greeted with a bear hug from head coach Mike Tomlin. The stadium erupted, except for our neighbors.

The Steelers had rolled to a 17-7 halftime lead, but I felt queasy even when The Boss took the stage and rocked the stadium. Only Bruce Springsteen's bizarre crotch-first slide into a television camera could distract me from thinking about what would develop in the second half.

Little did I or the other 70,773 fans know what we would witness. The third quarter was dull, but the fourth quarter made up for its lack of sizzle.

Our section exploded as Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald streaked down the field directly toward our end zone with the look of a man prepared to maim anyone in his way. My father and I huddled together to weather the storm from our section.

But the Arizona fans began celebrating their Super Bowl victory 2 minutes and 37 seconds too early. A man behind us threw up his arms and triumphantly shouted, "I can't believe we won the Super Bowl!"

Neither could I.

That's when Ben Roethlisberger got to work at his own 12-yard line. He scrambled, finding enough time to hit receiver Santonio Holmes, the eventual Super Bowl MVP. Each time Roethlisberger eluded pressure, a teenage girl in the next row shouted, "He is so lucky!"

"This isn't luck," I thought. "It's Big Ben at his finest."

The raucous celebration in our section dwindled to a light simmer when Holmes flashed open and stumbled to the Cardinals' 6-yard line. Meanwhile, the rest of Raymond James Stadium rocked, but I remained subdued and nervous, still clutching my Terrible Towel in one hand and my father's shoulder in the other.

Then it happened. Big Ben chucked the ball to the corner of the end zone and Holmes caught it before immediately getting slammed out of bounds.

Was it a catch? Did he have both feet down?

Steelers Nation anxiously awaited the official video review. The stadium remained stunningly silent. Then, referee Terry McAulay returned from the booth, raised both arms in the air and set Raymond James ablaze.

A LaMarr Woodley beatdown of Warner sealed the win. I hugged my father and shouted, "We won the Super Bowl, Dad!" And this time, there was no disputing that claim.

As confetti showered the field, most of the Cardinals fans slithered our of our section and into the cool Tampa night. I looked around and saw a few joyous Steelers fans celebrating in our section among the empty stadium seats.

My dad and I hugged and posed for pictures in front of the swell of players and media that swarmed the field. After the emotional roller coaster we rode for nearly four hour, it was time to celebrate. Even if I needed my Terrible Towel to dab a few tears of joy from my face.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Media censorship

I was watching with great angst the end of the Coal Bowl last night when the WVU Mountaineers lined up at scrimmage and just stood there. Then the television camera focused on a Marshall defensive player for no reason at all. And that's when the ESPN announcers explained what was happening.

A fan had run onto the turf and was playing tag with the cops. The hoard of police officers tackled him and dragged him away before play resumed, but the television cameras never showed this drunken idiot causing problems. They said they refused to show the fan so as not to encourage others to act in a similarly stupid manner.

That's very interesting. Because the media has been unrelenting in covering a similar idiot in Gainesville, Fla., who wanted to burn Korans today. That seems awfully hypocritical to me.

This so-called "Christian" pastor planned to burn 200 Islamic holy books to protest the actions of radical Muslims overseas and the proposed construction of a mosque in New York City. Day after day, the media camped outside this church of just 50 congregants and spent unnecessary time covering this extremist's idiotic plan.

Even ABC News' Jake Tapper asked President Obama yesterday why the administration elevated the story to a national level by having Department of Defense Secretary Robert Gates call this pastor and request he reconsider those plans. Uh, Jake, I don't think it's the president who elevated this story. You and your media cronies did a pretty good job giving this guy all the attention he wanted.

In the end, this pastor is clearly insane. Can you imagine the reaction in America if an Islamic imam declared that the Holy Bible should be burned on Christmas Day? So why is this pastor given more than a single minute of air-time for proposing something so radical?

All things considered, I would have much rather preferred to watch that drunken fan get pummeled by police than I would watching this idiot have a weenie roast with Islam's sacred book.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Steelers Nation fan-tastic in Fla.

By Michael Jones
Observer-Reporter
Feb. 2, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. – Terrible Towels twirled and Raymond James Stadium rocked as the Steelers rolled Sunday night to a victory in Super Bowl XLIII against the Arizona Cardinals.

But hours before Santonio Holmes hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, anticipation swelled at tailgates near the stadium as game time approached.

The Corrigan family kicked back at their pickup truck that proudly displayed a sign asserting that Tampa was now Steelers Country. Joe Corrigan, 66, of Sarver, Pa., was tailgating and holding a reunion with his two sons, Sean and Patrick, both of whom left Western Pennsylvania for jobs elsewhere.

"I'm excited," said 39-year-old Sean Corrigan, who now lives in Atlanta. "It's always been a dream of mine."

The overwhelming force of Steelers Nation left an impression on the family.

"I'm amazed how few Cardinals fans are here," Sean Corrigan said.

The fans from Arizona, looking tan and happy to just be at the Super Bowl, made a decent showing this weekend, but were easily outnumbered. Patrick Corrigan, 35, who recently moved to Denver, still was unimpressed.

"When you see them, they have brand new jerseys with the price tags still hanging off," Patrick Corrigan joked about the recently growing Cardinals' bandwagon.

That didn't matter to their father as he kicked back an Iron City beer on the roof of a parking garage overlooking Raymond James Stadium. He was just glad to be here after his wife broke her leg last week but still encouraged him to travel to Florida for the game.

"When this came up, I said let's not miss this opportunity," Joe Corrigan said.

William "Tripp" Kline and his wife, Suzanne, said their flight from Pittsburgh to Daytona Beach was packed with Steelers fans. The couple from South Franklin Township said their US Airways crew even played the "Here We Go" fight song over the plane's intercom.

"From what we can see, the flights are jam-packed with Steelers fans," William Kline said. "We're just going to soak up the whole atmosphere at our tailgate. Take in all the pageantry."

While the Klines were in Florida to enjoy the game, Phil Eonda, was all business. The 49-year-old Tampa police detective, formerly of North Franklin Township and a 1978 Trinity High School graduate, was working security at the city's convention center. His shift was supposed to end at 5 p.m., giving him time to head home and watch the game.

"The chance of this happening was remote," Eonda said about the Steelers coming to his adopted hometown for the big game. "I'm glad they made it, and they're here."

The game wasn't only attracting people from the City of Pittsburgh. Fans from all around Western Pennsylvania and elsewhere partied in the shadow of the stadium. A crowd of fans from Centre County stood in the parking garage and chanted the Penn State fight song as they twirled their towels. Others traveled from Somerset, Johnstown and Harrisburg to represent the black and gold at the parking garage.

Overcast skies in the morning eventually gave way to sunshine as tailgaters more accustomed to freezing temperatures relished the warmth. Mark and Melanie Melfi, of Toledo, Ohio, went to Detroit for the Super Bowl festivities three years ago and were greeted then with snow. This time around, however, they sported sunglasses and short sleeves.

"The weather is totally different," Mark Melfi said. "The atmosphere in Detroit, because it was so close, was great, but it couldn't handle the crowd."

"It was just different then," Melanie Melfi added. "We hadn't won a Super Bowl in, what, 25 years? There was that hunger, and we just weren't going to lose that game."

They couldn't find tickets to Super Bowl XL, but watched it at a Detroit bar. This time around, though, they scored tickets on eBay a few days after the Steelers defeated the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC championship game.

"After Detroit, we told ourselves we should've gone," Mark Melfi said. "This is just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Hopefully not for Steelers Nation.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A nightmarish fantasy

No matter how hard I tried, the pop-up window on my computer would not display last night's Yahoo! fantasy football draft. There was no money on the line, but it was just another feeling of total isolationism that is somehow just now beginning to set in. I had been looking forward to this annual fantasy draft for weeks and, just like everything else over the past 15 months, it was taken away from me.

So as I was wrangling with the computer, my seven friends were drafting their players as the automated server was selecting for me Falcons running back Michael Turner in the first round. SERIOUSLY!? Michael Turner in the first round? I would've preferred, of course, to have Aaron Rodgers.

It might seem stupid, but it made me even more depressed than I already was. Here are my seven friends, all of whom have decent-paying jobs, having fun on a Tuesday night and enjoying each others' company. And there I was, by myself, watching the Pirates game on television. The freaking Pirates!

It symbolized everything I'm feeling right now. My friends -- and 82 percent of Americans -- are successful and enjoying the fruits of their labor during this economic jackpot. And then there's the rest of us, sitting around with no hope of anything. No job, no pay, no purpose in society. It brings me back to the Post-Gazette's story on Monday that illustrated how 3.5 million Americans don't exist in the eyes of the system. I still "exist" because I continue to collect unemployment benefits, but it sure doesn't feel like it right now.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Witness to calamity

By Michael Jones
Charleston Daily Mail
Sept. 9, 2005

"I never thought something like this could happen in America," a man told me while standing in the crowded lobby of Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans at 3 a.m. Saturday.

His brand-new white shoes were caked with muck. He had trudged through contaminated water after leaving his original shelter -- an interstate overpass. He removed the laces because they were too waterlogged to be of any use.

He seemed to look through me with his drooping eyes. He was standing next to all his belongings in a couple of suitcases and wondering aloud how he would ever put his life back together.

When would he again see his wife, who had presumably already left the airport on an earlier flight? Would he ever regain his job as a welder? Where would he live until the city could be drained and restored? Would he ever really move back to New Orleans?

"Our world just changed,"

Nothing could have prepared me, or the Air National Guard members I accompanied, for what we saw at that airport. These suffering Americans were too tired and despairing to raise a fuss about the rancid conditions, though.

While the airport was slightly better than the hellish confines of the convention center and Superdome, it was quickly deteriorating. Trash littered the floors throughout the place, and the concourse smelled like urine and worse.

Thousands of people slept on the floor or on baggage conveyor belts while others waited in endless lines for the next flight out of the city. Moans could be heard from some of the sick in a quarantined concourse that housed the most critical patients. Hundreds of these patients, mostly elderly, lay slumped over in their wheelchairs or on green stretchers. Many appeared lifeless.

Those who had been pronounced dead were taken to a temporary morgue set up in the waiting area for a Continental Airlines gate, far from the other survivors and the television cameras.

It's impossible to convey the depths of this tragedy through a newspaper or a television set.

"How do you convey the smell, the sight and the feel of it?" asked Senior Master Sgt. Dennis Heilmann of the 130th Airlift Wing.

I wondered that, too, especially since I had been working for the Charleston Daily Mail for only four weeks before receiving this assignment.

What would be tougher? Seeing the uncensored mess that was New Orleans or trying to put that horrifying picture into words?

---

Never did I think I would be thrust into a major national story so soon.

On Thursday morning, Sept. 1, I was making my daily "cop calls" to various police departments in the state. Before the day was over, I was standing on a tarmac at the New Orleans Naval Air Station.

When I received the assignment from my editor, I didn't have time to really understand what I was about to undertake. The prospect of working with an Air Guard squadron was intimidating. How would they react to having a reporter on their C-130 cargo plane?

More importantly, would I be able to stand up to the horrifying sights and rigorous work ahead?

Those questions and many more went through my mind before I boarded the cargo plane with nine crewmen.

A local news cameraman, Chris Coyner, and I were granted an all-access pass with a C-130 crew commanded by Maj. Kyle Adams. We were able to observe everything and conduct interviews as they carried out their tough assignment.

The first two days of the mission were slow as the crew transported only Army National Guard troops from Ohio to the New Orleans Naval Air Station.

Early Saturday, though, we arrived at the international airport to evacuate the most critical patients from the city. Nothing could have prepared us for what we were to see.

Much of it will stay with me for years. I hope never to forget the evacuees' faces so I can be reminded of how fortunate I am.

We take our many luxuries for granted. I did before Saturday.

Surprisingly, the air guardsmen I accompanied expressed that same sentiment. Men and women who had served in "The Desert" -- Iraq and Afghanistan -- could not put into words what they felt about the devastation they saw on the faces of the survivors.

It seemed that even the displaced New Orleans residents themselves didn't understand the magnitude of their ordeal. Understandably, they appeared to be more focused on surviving the difficult conditions than worrying about everything they had lost.

As relief workers worked to move thousands of survivors through the airport, the media representatives began to pour in. Dozens of satellite trucks lined the parking lot, but many of the tragic stories had already left on flights to their unknown destinations.

---

Throughout the week, I got an inkling of why the Base Realignment and Closure Commission might have spared the 130th Airlift Wing. The guardsmen carried out their mission professionally, even with constant confusion.

The crew waited on the New Orleans tarmac for five hours Saturday while volunteers loaded three other planes around theirs. The C-130, carrying 24 patients, left as dawn crept over the horizon.

After unloading those patients in Houston, the crew members requested a waiver so they could continue flying missions. They needed permission to work long enough to make it back to San Antonio, or they would be in violation of flying procedures.

Military rules require a flight crew to stop flying 16 hours after they are alerted for a mission. Although they were working on little sleep, the crew was granted the two-hour waiver, but each member had to approve.

Huddled in a tight circle, each of the nine immediately made it clear they wanted to fly back to New Orleans for another round.

Rescue workers diligently loaded 24 more patients onto the C-130. One doctor thanked a crew member and told him two patients would have died had they not been airlifted immediately.

Another airlift the following evening meant more problems. As the C-130 approached Chennault Airport, a small airstrip in western Louisiana, one patient's pulse rate dropped to 30 beats per minute.

Adams and the rest of the flight crew did everything in their power to get the plane on the ground as quickly and safely as possible. A waiting ambulance crew stabilized the woman, but some of the crew members took the experience very hard.

It was clear to me that their work, and the work of the other crews from the 130th, resulted in many lives being saved.

---

Despite my experiences, I saw glimmers of hope in the fact that people suffering through unspeakable anguish still could smile or speak a greeting to me.

While returning to Charleston Tuesday night, the crew played "Country Roads" over the plane's intercom system. As we headed home, I reflected on what I had seen over the past six days.

Covering this tragedy has been the most rewarding and disheartening experience of my life. It was an incredible privilege to tell this story.

Friday, September 3, 2010

C-130 crew returning after hurricane duty

By Michael Jones
Charleston Daily Mail
Sept. 6, 2005

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - After a grueling mission to evacuate dozens of critical patients our of New Orleans, the crew of EVAC 306 from the 130th Airlift Wing received word it was going home today.

The flight of the West Virginia Air National Guard C-130 left Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio this morning and headed to Houston to airlift supplies to Louisiana.

Then it was back to Charleston for a much-needed break.

The past several days have been hectic for the 130th, which has endured numerous itinerary changes. Scheduling conflicts on the ground have forced numerous delays, but the crew has worked hard to overcome those problems.

This is nothing new for the 130th. While most people have 9-to-5 jobs, the members of the Air Guard don't have a set work schedule. During the five-day operation, the crew worked a 10-hour shift, 12-hour shift, two 16-hour shifts and an 18-hour shift.

Their hour-by-hour lives are frustrating and exciting all at the same time, they say.

"I would kind of like to know where we're going and when we're going, but in our type of job, you don't get that," said 1st Lt. Tim Street, the flight's navigator. "You have to be able to change as it goes and adapt."

Street, who has spent more than 11 years in the Guard, expects to be deployed to Afghanistan in the coming weeks.

"It is kind of frustrating when you don't know what will happen and when you'll do (missions), but you get used to it," Street said. "It keeps it interesting and keeps you on your toes, but I enjoy it."Many crew members expected to stay longer than Monday and were surprised to leave just one day after the original departure date.

"I didn't know if we would be here two days or two weeks," he said.

A perfect example of the changing schedule occurred Sunday when the 130th expected to make three trips to New Orleans. After the initial trip, it was clear they would not need to return because the sickest patients had been moved.

Just a day earlier, the crew had to request a waiver to extend their hours so the could evacuate more survivors. Without that extension, their mission would not have been able to move 24 critically ill patients needing immediate assistance.

"That's the name of the game with the C-130 crew," said 1st Lt. Todd Perry, the crew's co-pilot. "As long as you're flexible, it works so much easier for the user."

Many feel the length of any mission is not as troublesome as the question mark of the return date. Some say they do not mind serving for long periods but wish they could tell their families when they are coming back.

Perry, who is from Hico in Fayette County, said that has been especially tough on his wife, who has had to oversee the construction of their new hours while he has been gone.

"It is hard because you're not sure when you're 100 percent positive when you'll be home," he said. "You can't tell your wife a certain date."

He will return to his job as a State Police trooper in South Charleston in mid-October.

But there is always the excitement of traveling to unexpected places and not being completely tied to a schedule.

Maj. Kyle Adams, the aircraft commander, sees positives and negatives to his job as a pilot for both the U.S. Air Force and Delta Airlines. His roles as a commercial pilot is much different because it involves trying to meet strict schedules.

"On one hand, I like the variety the military give yous," he said. "On the other hand, I like the consistency of the airline."

But all of the crew from the 130th understands there area factors they cannot control. They waited in line for more than four hours on the Louis Armstrong International Airport tarmac until it was their turn to load the critical patients.

Understandably, the rushed evacuation created many problems for rescue workers. Still, Adams said a good game plan is most important for a successful mission.

"Perfect planning prevents poor performance," he said, spouting a line he learned in training.

"I hate to waste the time and daylight of loading problems," Adams said. "I can take care of pre-mission stuff, but I hate to burn time."

As the crew makes its final rescue flight of the mission, most are torn between the desire to see their families again and the satisfaction of helping those in need.

"It's bittersweet," Adams said. "I feel good with what we did, but I wish we could help more. But we've got to follow orders."

The C-130 crew that left last Thursday is expected to arrive in Charleston this afternoon. There has been no word of if, or when, a return trip to New Orleans will be scheduled.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Even hardened C-130 crews jarred

By Michael Jones
Charleston Daily Mail
Sept. 5, 2005

LAKE CHARLES, La. - Some might believe there is no greater trauma than the sights of war, but what members of the 130th Airlift Wing have seen seen this week has changed their view.

Nine crew members from a C-130 unit based in Charleston are seeing the human side of the devastation from Hurricane Katrina. On Saturday, they successfully airlifted 48 severely ill patients to two Texas cities.

Just past midnight today, the crew airlifted another nine to Chennault Airport, a small airstrip here in western Louisiana.

Only a few walked the concourses of Louis Armstrong International Airport, but all of them saw the feeble, elderly survivors lying helplessly on stretchers stacked in the back of the plane. Most of these men have been to war, either Iraq, Afghanistan, or even Vietnam. None of them, they say, have ever seen anything like the devastation in the aftermath of Katrina.

Senior Master Sgt. Dennis Heilmann, a full-time guardsman from Scott Depot, said this is the most impressive relief effort he has seen in his 26 years in the Air Guard. He also said aiding West Virginian flood victims couldn't prepare him for this task.

"I don't have words for it," he said Saturday in the airport concourse. "It was heartbreaking. I was awestruck.

"How do you convey the smell, the sight, and the feel of it?"

"Master Sgt. Dave Summerfield of Pinch has seen just about everything after serving in Vietnam and both Iraq wars.

"It's worse than any war I've been in," Summerfield said, referring to the casualties and destruction. "It's something I never expected."

The co-pilot of the crew's C-130, 1st Lt. Todd Perry, wished he could give the survivors the same care his family receives. Perry, a state trooper stationed in South Charleston, said seeing the frail victims made the crew push harder to evacuate more patients even after working an 18-hour shift.

"I felt like I had no control over anything, even with a 155,000-pound airplane," Perry said.

Because the disaster hit America, it made Perry reflect on who he was helping.

"This person could be an old neighbor from West Virginia or the guy working at the coal mine down the street," he said.

The experience has been just as gripping for others, including 1st Lt. Tim Street of Teays Valley, a new navigator slated for deployment in Iraq soon.

"This was the first I felt like I was doing something," Street said.

This morning's operation was the third trip the crew to made to New Orleans in less than 48 hours. Since then, relief workers have made major progress in removing survivors and cleaning the soiled airport hallways. An immense relief effort has been mounted over the past couple of days, seemingly making up for the initial problems.

Maj. Blake Jessen, director of operations for Lackland Air Force Base, said New Orleans had to turn away aircraft for a brief time because of the volume. The airport relief operation was the "largest airlift in American history," Jessen said.

"It took a little while for things to get going because the military won't go until somebody says start," Jessen said. "Once they did, there were enormous amounts of airlifts going in there and grabbing people and taking them out."

Perry saw a San Diego County sheriff's helicopter landing on the runway adjacent to his C-130. He said it was "unprecedented" to see such a large number of civilian and military aircraft landing simultaneously without incident.

"The airlift Saturday was more broad than anything I've seen in my 15 years in the military," Perry said.

On Saturday, thousands filed through endless lines as they waited to leave the airport. On Sunday, only a couple slept in the cramped concourses.

One man, George Deano from St. Bernard Parish, said he waited until Saturday to leave his friend's flooded two-story house. Deano, sitting with his dog, Tucker, waited so long because, for most of the week, evacuees were not allowed to bring their pets to shelters.

"We thought it would be bad, but not like this," he said. "I lost my Harley, my truck and my house."

Deano said he and his friend used a generator to restore power to the house. But many more didn't have that luxury. According to some accounts, more than 15,000 people were shuttled through the airport in four days. More than 2,500 were critical care patients needed immediate evacuation.

In fact, the crew from the 130th took the final nine patients from the airport. They laid on stretchers with Air Force medics in Gate D1. The day before, that gate was used as a temporary morgue.

Heading from San Antonio, the crew flew an ambulance, a team of medics and a crew from ABC's Good morning America coming from the Houston Astrodome.

"Of all the wars I've covered and all the stories, this is the saddest I've ever seen," said Nancy Snyderman, the crew's correspondent.

One hour into the final flight away from New Orleans, one of the critical care evacuees took a turn for the worse. The elderly woman's heart rate fell to 30 beats per minute, and a medic onboard requested an ambulance to be waiting when the flight arrived in Chennault.

The flight crew, led by Maj. Kyle Adams, a Delta pilot originally from Summersville and now living in Atlanta, immediately radioed ahead and focused on getting to the airfield as quickly as possible. Adams said the woman, fading with every passing minute, made him think of his family.

"The (medic) put it best," Adams said. "We had to give her the best chance to die comfortably."

When the plane arrived, she was whisked away to a waiting ambulance. The medics on the ground were able to stabilize her and give her a great chance for survival.

When the crew departed for San Antonio, there was a somber mood in the cockpit, even with the success of the mission. As time passed, though, the crew on the flight deck began to recite lines from the move, "Super Troopers." While flying over Houston, Perry radioed an air traffic controller to announce their position.

"Good evening, Houston Center, this is Evac 306 checking in 'meow' at flight level 200," Perry said, mimicking an inside joke from the movie.

Instantly, laughter filled the dreary cockpit. For a few minutes, the crew could step away from their work and smile.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

'It's hard to put into words'

By Michael Jones
Charleston Gazette-Mail
Sept. 4, 2005

NEW ORLEANS - A crew from Charleston's 130th Airlift Wing landed in New Orleans early Saturday morning and evacuated numerous injured and sick patients to Ellington Air Force Base in Houston.

Less than four hours later, they did it again.

The Air National Guard's 130th Airlift Wing flew into Louis Armstrong International Airport with 10 medical evacuation members and a critical transport team trained to care for patients while in the air. The team was able to extricate 48 people, mostly elderly, who were too sick to leave the flooded city on their own.

As the Hercules touched down to begin its first rescue mission at 12:50 a.m. local time, the only lights glimmering in New Orleans were from rescue boats searching for survivors.

The medical and flight crews were unsure of what they would see upon their arrival at the airport. Maj. Kyle Adams, the flight commander, warned the crew that the "terminal is turning into chaos."

"We don't know what to expect and that's the most frustrating thing," said Capt. Steven Lehr, a member of the critical care team. "We usually get a (casualty) report."

An eerie feeling set over the aircraft as it taxied, most knowing the airport might have little use after the rescue missions are completed. Three C-130s from the 130th sat on the tarmac simultaneously, all shuttling survivors to different cities, including Charleston.

A large red and blue sign reading, "Welcome to New Orleans," hung over the middle concourse, welcoming tourists before the monstrous Hurricane Katrina ripped through the region.

Just below it sat a luggage conveyor belt leading to a large white moving truck. Instead of transporting baggage, though, it was lowering bodies in white bags to the waiting truck. A temporary morgue was set up in a Continental Airlines gate labeled D1.

Medics moved their patients using baggage carts with two or three stretchers in each compartment. Lehr was taken aback after seeing all the people needing immediate medical attention.

"There's a lot of sadness, tiredness and total despair," he said. "It's hard to put into words."

While at least a dozen C-130s from various squadrons around the country carried people from the New Orleans airport, thousands waited for commercial jets to shuttle them to various U.S. cities. The airport has become the third major shelter since last Sunday.
City officials originally opened the Superdome for residents to ride out the storm, but unsanitary conditions and lawlessness forced its closure, leaving thousands without a place to stay.

Almost every person in the airport terminal looked tired and dismayed, with little hope after a week of searching for food and shelter. They sat in metal chairs, waiting.

Others just slept. Either on the floor or on luggage conveyor belts behind check-out counters.

In the morning, one day into the airport's role as a shelter, the terminals were filled with garbage, yet many said it still did not compared to the hell of the Superdome.

One man said he spent four days on an interstate bridge waiting for transport to a shelter. He said he had lost his wife at the airport and believed she had already boarded a plane.

"I didn't know something like this could happen in America," the man said, looking at the thousands of people who surrounded him in one of the airport's concourses. "It's like a nightmare. I don't know how to start all over again. Our world just changed."

A couple looking for a working vending machine said they stayed a the Superdome for four days before conditions became unbearable. They said they saw a man commit suicide by throwing himself from the second tier of the arena.

Some, though, had harsh words for the federal government for not taking care of their needs sooner.

"They've forgot about us," a woman said as her autistic son slept on the tile floor. "It's been like this for a week, and I'm losing my mind."

The lack of communications has made it almost impossible for survivors to gather information about the relief effort. One woman blasted the major and governor while another woman's anger was directed at the U.S. government.

While tensions were hire, all stayed calm, unlike the riotous behavior by looters and vandals in downtown New Orleans.

After the crew members of the C-130 brought their patients to a hanger at Ellington, they prepared for a second trip to New Orleans. But they first had to get approval to extend their shift.

Flight crews are allowed to fly for only 16 hours until they must take a break. If they wished to make another rescue mission, they would need to extend that time by two hours. Within minutes, they received approval, but were still racing against the clock to make the deadline.

"At (11 a.m.) we go, either with air or butts in the seats," Adams said, alluding to the time their C-130 and crew must depart New Orleans.

When they landed, it was a much different scene than five hours earlier. Dozens of helicopters and commercials planes littered the runways and skies, creating a deafening whistle.
Daylight brough more help, and that meant fewer survivors waiting in mile-long lines to leave. The floors were cleaner, spirits were mildly brighter, but the loss from the week still took its toll.

Maj. David Lester, a veteran of the Iraq war, said what he saw there could not compare to the horror he saw at Louis Armstrong International. Just before the final survivors were loaded into the C-130, a doctor came to Lester, thanking him and his crew for returning. The doctor told him two of the patients likely would have died had they not been airlifted to another city.

This afternoon, the 10 men from Charlie West will fly back to New Orleans and continue their mission.