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NEWS | Sept. 18, 2023

Joint Task Force – Red Hill Airmen’s Enduring Commitment to Service

By Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Brown

Today, as the Air Force celebrates its 76th birthday, the 78 Airmen with Joint Task Force-Red Hill (JTF-RH) honor the valor and sacrifice of the Airmen who came before them. For 70 of those 78, who are members of the Hawaii Air National Guard (HIANG), the mission to defuel and close the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility (RFBFSF) has personal significance.

Since the beginning of American military aviation, the U.S. Air Force has carried out humanitarian relief missions around the world, responding to human suffering caused by natural disasters, political instability and war. This includes high-profile operations like the Berlin Airlift and other missions to deliver supplies, evacuate refugees or fight fires.

JTF-RH Airmen work hand-in-hand with members from the other armed services to defuel the World War II-era RHBFSF, which sits above an aquifer that provides much of the drinking water on the island of Oahu. The RHBFSF was chiseled under 100 feet of lava rock and contains 20 fuel tanks. Each tank is 100 feet in diameter and 250 feet high. In total the tanks can store 250 million gallons of fuel. The tanks are connected by pipelines to a pumping station at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, more than three-and-a-half miles away.

Airman First Class Kaeden Kairua volunteered to man access control points with JTF-RH to make a difference in the state he was born and raised in.

“Defueling Red Hill is important to me because that’s where I live,” said Kairua. “It feels good to know that we’re making history by safely defueling the facility, and one day I’ll be able to tell my kids that I was a part of that effort.”

Many of the Airmen on the task force have past experiences with humanitarian missions.

U.S. Air National Guard Senior Master Sgt. Steven-J Kau, JTF-RH noncommissioned officer-in-charge of information technology, responded to an earthquake in Nepal in 2015.

“Being a part of the United States Air Force has been an incredible journey. I’ll never forget our mission in 2015, responding to the devastating earthquake in Nepal and providing vital assistance,” said Kau, “These days, as a member of Joint Task Force-Red Hill, my focus has shifted to safeguarding the precious water resources of Hawaii. It’s a rewarding continuation of our commitment to serve and protect, both locally and globally.”

For U.S. Air National Guard Maj. Jeremy Wong, JTF-RH Planning Directorate action officer, working a humanitarian mission in Hawaii is nothing new.

“I was activated as a nurse for two years during the state response to Covid-19,” said Wong, “And my guard unit exists to provide medical relief in case the state is attacked. Humanitarian missions are really a part of our DNA in my opinion.”

Wong said he was surprised at how gratifying working at JTF-RH has been. “I have so much pride in the mission of JTF-RH,” said Wong, “It is important to the state to safely defuel, and I’m very proud to be a part of this mission.”

Airmen assigned to JTF-RH celebrated the Air Force’s 76th birthday with a symbolic cake-cutting ceremony at its Ford Island headquarters on Sept. 18.

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