- Associated Press - Thursday, October 30, 2014

FREEPORT, Texas (AP) - The deafening whir of rotating blades and a small sandstorm filled the afternoon air as rescue crews took flight from a Brazoria County beach in a Black Hawk helicopter ready to hoist survivors to safety from the Gulf of Mexico.

As part of a joint quarterly training session, about 50 members of the Texas National Guard and Texas Task Force 1 - a College Station-based FEMA urban search and rescue team sponsored by the Texas A&M; Engineering Extension Service - collaborated this week in exercises over San Luis Pass. It’s something they’ve done before, during the aftermaths of devastating hurricanes and flash flood situations.

“We rescued a guy hanging off a stop sign and some sitting on top of their car,” said Texas National Guard Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jeremy Eubanks, who pilots a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter.

An Aggie from the class of 1996, Eubanks joined the Army after 9/11. Fulfilling a childhood dream of flying jets and helicopters and following in the footsteps of his Vietnam veteran family members, Eubanks did a tour of duty in Afghanistan and another in Iraq before returning to a full-time engineering job for a San Antonio company in 2012.

As part of the Texas National Guard, he has also been deployed to assist with wildfires and floods, contributing to the more than 370,000 days local Guardsmen have served in natural disasters domestically since 2003. Texas Task Force 1 has provided search and rescue resources for 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the deadly Aggie bonfire collapse and at least one major incident every year since its first deployment in 1998.

Half of its 600 members from more than 60 organizations across Texas are trained in swiftwater and flood rescue.

“Today we’re training to maintain a state of readiness,” Eubanks said before taking media into the sky to watch as members of the National Guard operated a second helicopter, while task force volunteers - made up of firefighters and emergency personnel from as far away as El Paso - operated the boats and served as rescue swimmers.

College Station fire Lt. Chad Phillips, a task force water manager and team leader for the department’s swiftwater rescue team, was among the locals in attendance this week. He emphasized the importance of water rescue teams by pointing to the many televised rescues after Katrina made landfall.

“A big part of the job was seen in Katrina with the pickoffs from rooftops,” he told The Eagle newspaper (https://bit.ly/10BG7nO ). “We need those helicopters and rescue guys.”

Their objective during the three-day swiftwater rescue training session was to work out any kinks for their next deployment.

“The goal is a little bit of a practice and a little bit of development,” said Lynn Burttschell, a helicopter manager with Texas Task Force 1. Eubanks described the joint training as “invaluable.”

“Our ability to combine what we do with what they can bring to the table … saves lives,” he said, referring to the combination of the National Guard’s helicopter operations and the task force’s boat operations and rescue swimmers.

As a pilot with experience overseas, Eubanks noted the versatility of Black Hawk helicopters, which can serve as medical evacuation, transportation and assault vessels depending on the situation.

“I love to fly, but the fact that we’re doing something practical with it, that the helicopter has a role to play, is really rewarding,” he said.

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Information from: The Eagle, https://www.theeagle.com

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