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National Guard Citizen-Airmen satisfy Texas-sized thirst

Texas Air National Guardsmen from the 181st Airlift Squadron load pallets of water on a C-130H Hercules Feb. 19, 2021, at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas. Several aircraft delivered bottled water to towns in South Texas after a devastating winter storm.

Texas Air National Guardsmen from the 181st Airlift Squadron load pallets of water on a C-130H Hercules Feb. 19, 2021, at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas. Several aircraft delivered bottled water to towns in South Texas after a devastating winter storm.

FORT WORTH, Texas – A winter storm without a name is just chilly weather. But when the National Weather Service names it Uri, it becomes the winter storm of a lifetime – or at least in the eyes of Texas.

From Feb. 14-20, Winter Storm Uri – the worst polar vortex to hit Texas since 1989 – spread cataclysmic damage and sent temperatures plummeting to the teens and single digits for more than 4 million Texans.

Nicknamed “Snow-mageddon” by many, Uri’s cold wave resulted in widespread power outages. As homes lost power and temperatures dropped, water pipes froze, and in many cases, burst, leaving Texans without usable water or the energy source to boil it to render it potable.

In coordination with the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) delivered nearly 1,300 tons of bottled water to Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth for Central and South Texas communities.

Enter the Texas Air National Guard. Even before the snow and ice began to thaw, these Citizen-Airmen soared into action to serve their fellow Texans.

The 136th Airlift Wing’s C-130H Hercules flew more than 26 missions to places as far west as Abilene and Del Rio to far south, including McAllen and Corpus Christi, where additional Texas Guardsmen were waiting to distribute the water to residents in need. Other aircraft, such as C-130Js, C-17s and various rotary craft, augmented the deliveries.

Texas ANG Capt. Dave Ruthenbeck, 181th Airlift Squadron C-130H pilot, flew the mission. He said he wanted to pay it forward after having been without power or water for 35 hours himself.

“Now that I’ve got my power back, I want to help others not as fortunate,” Ruthenbeck said. “We’ve got about 35,000 pounds of water loaded here and are headed to Austin. We’ve been flying water since Thursday (Feb. 18) and will continue until it’s all delivered.”

Working around the clock, Texas Army and Air National Guardsmen orchestrated the delivery of more than 40,000 cases of water themselves. They worked with TDEM and other agencies, first responders, county officials, and volunteers to deliver millions of bottles of water overall, plus food and other necessities to Texans in need.

Texas ANG Tech. Sgt. Joshua Smith said he wanted to find a way to help his neighbors, and delivering the water was a good start.

“I love helping people,” Smith said. “People need water around the state right now, and we’re doing the job and making it happen. This is the greatest job that you can have!”

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