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Kentucky Air Guardsmen evacuate more than 170 from St. Maarten following Hurricane Irma

Airmen from the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron and New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing prepare to depart St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, for St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, on Sept. 8, 2017, for rescue operations in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

Airmen from the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron and New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing prepare to depart St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, for St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, on Sept. 8, 2017, for rescue operations in the wake of Hurricane Irma. The Kentucky Airmen are now facilitating the evacuation of hundreds of U.S. citizens from the Virgin Islands. (U.S. Air National Guard photo)

Master Sgt. John Beardsley, a controller fom the Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, provides an assessment of the suitability of aircraft landing zones for airlift evacuations at Cyril E. King International Airport in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, in the wake of Hurriane Irma Sept. 8, 2017.

Master Sgt. John Beardsley, a controller fom the Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, provides an assessment of the suitability of aircraft landing zones for airlift evacuations at Cyril E. King International Airport in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, in the wake of Hurriane Irma Sept. 8, 2017. The unit is now facilitating the evacuation of hundreds of U.S. citizens from the Virgin Islands. (U.S. Air National Guard photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- For the second time in two weeks, special operators and aircrews from the Kentucky Air National Guard have deployed to support hurricane rescue operations, evacuating more than 170 U.S. citizens from the Dutch Caribbean island of St. Maarten today.

Twelve of the unit’s special operators departed from the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville at 3 this morning, en route to St. Maarten aboard two Kentucky C-130 Hercules aircraft. The Airmen, who comprise two Global Access and Personnel Recovery Teams, are facilitating the evacuation of up to 6,000 U.S. citizens to Puerto Rico, said Maj. Aaron Zamora, the unit’s operations officer.

Specifically, the Airmen are directing air traffic and personnel movement on St. Maarten's airfield so evacuation flights can be executed safely, Zamora said.

Meanwhile, the two Kentucky aircraft and 12 aircrew members that flew the special tactics troops to St. Maarten remained on station to begin evacuating U.S. citizens, according to Capt. Nick Dobson, mission planner for Kentucky’s 165th Airlift Squadron. As of 11 a.m. today, that team has already airlifted 172 people to Puerto Rico.

“I could not be more proud of the Kentucky Air National Guardsmen who volunteered to stand up for these critical missions,” said Col. David Mounkes, commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing, the parent unit of the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron and 165th Airlift Squadron. “These are the types of missions we train for constantly, and our Airmen are always ready to help out at a moment’s notice anywhere in the world.”

The Kentucky Air Guard had previously deployed more than 80 Airmen to Texas for rescue and recovery operations following Hurricane Harvey.