When communities across the state of Hawaii endured a series of unprecedented events, two members of the Hawaii Air National Guard didn’t hesitate to volunteer for back-to-back activations.
Tech. Sgt. Samuel Yarbrough Jr. and Senior Airman Lerishane Enriquez played a critical role in the Maui wildfire recovery effort, and in Joint Task Force-Red Hill’s imperative environmental mission to protect a major aquifer on their home island of Oahu.
In August, when Lahaina, a city on the island of Maui, was hit by the nation’s most devastating wildfire on record this past century, the governor of Hawaii responded by activating their home unit, the 154th Wing Force Support Squadron.
Yarbrough and Enriquez, along with several other members from their squadron, were entrusted with the challenging task of search and recovery within the impacted community, leveraging their specialized skills in forensics, disaster response, and environmental protection.
Their expertise proved essential as they meticulously accounted for those who perished in the charred remnants of residential neighborhoods. The diligent search and recovery efforts led by the force-support Airmen offered much-needed solace and closure to families in mourning.
Both Yarbrough and Enriquez acknowledged that the 44-day mission was among the most demanding and emotionally taxing experiences they have faced. Yet, their efforts played a crucial role in bolstering the resilience and hastening the recovery of the Lahaina community.
“This work was heartbreaking for me, for all of us, but it was also very fulfilling at the same time,” said Enriquez. “Being able to provide that closure to families that lost their loved ones and their homes, it’s what they needed most. I’m just glad that our efforts were able to provide that for them so they can start their process of healing.”
Upon completing their service in Maui in mid-September, Yarbrough and Enriquez were soon offered a new opportunity to contribute to another critical initiative, this time closer to home.
On October 1, the Airmen transitioned to a new chapter of service as they integrated with Joint Task Force-Red Hill (JTF-RH). Tasked with the vital mission of defueling the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility (RHBFSF), their assignment carried personal resonance. Although not directly affected by the 2021 fuel release, both Airmen attested to a profound connection to the cause, having grown up in the surrounding community.
Taking on roles as team members at the access control points, they now provide around-the-clock security and accountability at the RBHFSF. Since joining JTF-RH, Yarbrough and Enriquez have been part of a mission that has defueled more than 104 million gallons of fuel – representing more than 99.9 percent of the fuel that was stored in the facility. Their oversight has contributed to a secure environment and complete accountability for all joint service members and civilian personnel and contractors as they conducted defueling operations within the facility grounds.
“Being here with the Joint Task Force is just another extension of the support we wanted to provide to the community,” said Yarbrough. “I know there’s been a lot of families who are depending on the work we do, so I feel a deep responsibility to contribute as a member of this team. With every person I clear through this facility, I take pride in knowing that I am part of an important effort to protect our precious water supply.”
Their roles extend beyond entry control, as they are part of a broader team that provides fire watch and roving security details that have been essential for the safe and expeditious defueling of the facility.
Airmen and Soldiers from the National Guard comprise a significant portion of JTF-RH’s staff, with 84 members deriving from the National Guard, with 75 members hailing from Hawaii.
“The versatility and dedication of the National Guard members have been vital to every aspect of our defueling efforts here at Joint Task Force-Red Hill,” said JTF-RH Deputy Commander, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Michelle Link. “Their expertise spans repairs, personnel management, communications, and security, playing a crucial role in the success we’ve achieved so far. We owe a significant part of our progress in safely defueling the facility to their tireless work and are profoundly fortunate for their indispensable contribution to this mission.”
Beyond their most recent activations, both members have been on previous assignments together, to include the COVID-19 task force. As they continue to man their posts at the RHBFSF, JTF-RH is preparing to hand over responsibility to the Navy Closure Task Force-Red Hill, which will complete the facility’s closure. With this transition on the horizon, both Yarbrough and Enriquez are poised and ready for whatever their community calls upon the next.
|JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, HI, US