Seven members of a Maine Air National Guard communications team have been dispatched to the U.S. Virgin Islands to assist recovery efforts after hurricanes Irma and Maria battered the region.

The airmen left Bangor on Thursday night on two C-130 aircraft bound for the island of St. Croix, where they will provide temporary communications to the airfield.

Lt. Col. Brian Camire, commander of the 265th Combat Communication Squadron, said his personnel have the capability to establish emergency radio communication service and wireless internet within six hours of landing.

“We’ve got to get the airfield opened up so we can start landing planes into St. Croix to start relief efforts,” Camire said. “Then they can build that out and increase their footprint and push services.”

The airmen packed the cargo planes with enough equipment, vehicles, food and water for the unit to be self-sufficient for up to 30 days.

“The last thing we want to do is be dependent on the folks who are down there,” Camire said.

The unit also brought technology that can be rapidly deployed to take the place of both military and civilian communication channels, if necessary.

Because of the devastation caused by the hurricanes, local fire and police may lose the ability to communicate among themselves and with other agencies. Camire said his people can provide those services if they’re required.

The National Guard likely will rotate the airmen out of the area within about 30 days, he said, but the needs are so fluid that it was difficult to predict how long the Maine Air National Guard will participate in the recovery effort.

Camire said the mission was made possible by the families and employers of the seven airmen, who were asked to undertake the mission on short notice.

A spokeswoman for the Maine National Guard said the group was expected to land Friday, depending on conditions on the ground, where most runways are still out of service.

“The mission is constantly changing depending on what the needs are down there,” Staff Sgt. Angela Parady said.

The 265th, based in South Portland, has provided communications support after a hurricane before. In a deployment to Vermont in 2011, members of the Maine Air National Guard Engineers assisted recovery efforts after hurricane Irene. The unit also provided communications assistance after Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc along the Gulf Coast in 2005.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of the Caribbean as they respond to the aftermath of another devastating hurricane,” Brig. Gen. Douglas Farnham, adjutant general for the Maine National Guard, said in a statement. “Our Maine National Guard service members are prepared to provide critical communications support to help restore normalcy to the region.”

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

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Twitter: MattByrnePPH

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