By Captain Peter Milano
To assess the devastation left behind by Hurricane Sandy, the Federal Emergency Management Agency tasked Civil Air Patrol to undertake an immense aerial photography mission. The objective of operation “Looking Glass” was to photograph the coastline from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to Cape May, New Jersey. Three bases were established along the east coast to accommodate Civil Air Patrol aircraft, with Danbury Airport designated as the northern most base. The mission of the base was to ensure the safety of Civil Air Patrol aircraft on the ground and to transfer the thousands of photos expected to be taken by aircrews to Northeast Region Command located in Concord, New Hampshire.
Before dawn, Sunday November 4th 2012, Major Jim Vigar, Commander of the 399th Danbury Composite Squadron Connecticut Wing, opens the squadron hangar and begins to prepare the equipment and tarmac for what promises to be a busy day at Danbury Municipal Airport. As daylight approaches he is joined by officer and cadet members of his squadron. They come from Danbury and surrounding towns like Bethel, New Fairfield, Ridgefield, and Sherman Connecticut. They are members of Civil Air Patrol, dedicated neighbors who volunteer their time and sweat for the distinction of serving their local community, Connecticut and the nation when called upon.
Early morning, Civil Air Patrol aircraft begin to arrive and the activity begins. Deputy Commander of Cadets, Captain Greg Sweeney, marshals aircraft to a safe area, ensures engines shut down and keys placed on the dashboard. Once secured the ground crew moves in under the astute direction of certified flight line officer Lieutenant Colonel Peter “Sandy” Sanderson. Major Vigar attaches the tow bar to the aircraft then secures it to the tractor so First Lieutenant Dale Cates can pull it across the tarmac. Cadet Commander Second Lieutenant Elizabeth Bell and Cadet Airman Noah Stillman move to the wings as Cadet Staff Sergeant Scott Padron takes the tail to ensure the aircraft clears all obstacles without damage. In another area Captain Ralph Langham, Captain MaryEllen Trohalis, and Cadet Chief Master Sergeant Roger McCaffrey manually maneuver aircraft to their parking positions. As more aircraft arrive Captain Drew Teichman, Emergency Services Officer, coordinates refueling. This adds another hazardous dimension to the already busy tarmac. Inside the 399th’s Head Quarters, Captain Glen Daines, Captain John Freeman, and Major Rob Rothenberg maintain communications with aircrews and keep track of arriving and departing aircraft. They also receive and upload stark images taken by the aircrews. This scenario goes on for most of the day as winds kick up and temperatures drop into the low thirties. Additional officer and cadet volunteers arrive throughout the day to handle the workload.
In total, 14 Civil Air Patrol aircraft from Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Vermont utilized Danbury Airport as their mission base. Twenty-five sorties (i.e. deployment of an aircraft, starting at take-off and ending on its return) were flown and an impressive 6,400 images delivered. Reflecting on the day’s activity, Lt Col Sanderson said “We picked up and got ourselves organized quickly. We ran a safe, innovative, and efficient operation.”
The significance of conducting operation “Looking Glass” cannot be understated as an assessment tool for FEMA. The 399th provided a key support base for a major operation, and did it well. Major Kevin Berry from Pennsylvania Wing, who served as a mission pilot that day remarked, “Your members embody excellence and serve our emergency services mission exceptionally well. I am especially impressed by the cadets I saw on task. I can’t express how much it means to an aircrew that’s travelled hundreds of miles to find people so well trained, so mission focused and also so friendly and welcoming.”
Members of the 399th also volunteered earlier in the week, devoting 5 days and over 200 man-hours helping the American Red Cross Connecticut Chapter and the Town of New Fairfield set up shelters and distribute supplies. They continue to assist by supplying aircrews for damage assessment and transporting supplies to areas hard hit by Hurricane Sandy. These are your neighbors, students and business people, quietly but effectively contributing to the concept of community.