News: Florida National Guard’s ‘Hurricane Battalion’ is south Florida’s defense during storm season
Story by Staff Sgt. Aidana Baez
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Waiting patiently within the carefully-manicured communities of south Florida lies a force so powerful hurricane strength winds can’t keep it at bay. The soldiers of 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment are dedicated to serving the state of Florida and the communities that surround its armories.
First Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment’s moniker is Hurricane Battalion and with good reason. Located in West Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, the Hurricane Battalion is prepared to launch into action and support its communities within a few hours of activation, but in the event of a severe storm, they may be called to assist anywhere in Florida as well as the other Gulf states.
“We are responsible for south Florida but depending on how bad the storm is it can be anywhere in the state,” said Lt. Col. David Yaegers Jr., commander, 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment. “We are also on call to go to any of the Gulf states: it’s called an EMAC.”
Emergency Management Assistance Compact, commonly known as an EMAC, is the disaster relief compact that offers assistance to states that are in a governor-declared state of emergency, but it doesn’t take a state of emergency for the Hurricane Battalion to start thinking about hurricane season. As a combat tested infantry battalion, these soldiers know the importance of being ready.
“We stay prepared every month,” said Yaegers. “We have a series of reports and procedures we do every month to make sure we are ready for state active duty.”
Starting in May, the focus shifts from preparing for hurricane season to planning how to respond, as June is the official start of hurricane season. Unit administrators begin updating and confirming contact information, evaluating the status of each soldier and ensuring all available soldiers are identified and prepared for activation. But manpower isn’t the only asset Hurricane Battalion has to offer. From high-water vehicles to power generators, all equipment is inspected and certified ready in the event of a storm.
Although each storm is unique and brings its own set of difficulties, Hurricane Battalion is ready to perform. Because of recent overseas mobilizations, the nature of a citizen-soldier force and the diverse makeup of the battalion, the soldiers of Hurricane Battalion have a variety of skills they bring with them on state active duty.
“I come from a military police background and at times we would do ride-alongs with the police officers,” said Spc. Eric L. Santiago, a rifleman with Company B, 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment. “But other times we set up PODs.”
A POD is a point of distribution, a location set up to allow the public access to emergency supplies, such as food, ice, and water, during a disaster situation.
Some of the most common missions for Hurricane Battalion are providing high-water vehicles to respond to flooding, traffic control during power outages, crowd control when assisting local and state police and establishing or coordinating a POD.
When things go bad, we are there to help stabilize the situation, said 2nd Lt. Jose E. Martinez, a platoon leader with Company D, 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment.
Serving the community is the primary role for the citizen-soldiers of the National Guard and it gives the soldiers a different sense of pride and gratitude.
“I feel better about doing a stateside mission,” said Staff Sgt. Michael E. Wilkinson, a squad leader with Company B, 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment. “That’s our role, to serve the community.”
When activated by the governor, state active duty can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. While state active duty may seem disruptive or burdensome and the conditions may be austere, the soldiers don’t allow these circumstances to hinder the mission accomplishment.
“I think they get a better satisfaction from helping out their fellow citizens,” said Yaegers. “Most of them live around here. I think it’s important to them.”
As important as it is to take care of the community and have the soldiers well prepared, it is equally as important to make sure their families are taken care of as well.
If a soldier’s home or family was directly impacted by a disaster, we don’t pull that soldier for duty, said Staff Sgt. Servio Tiffer, a squad leader with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment. We help the soldier and family recover.
Some families are veterans in their own right. Having been through so many activations that when the battalion is called up for duty it comes as no surprise.
After 20 years of service, my family is ready and knows what to expect, said Yaegers. They are always ready.
No matter how experienced the families are with state active duty, the leaders of Hurricane Battalion still stress the importance of communication. Communicating with leaders to communicating with the family is essential. It is all a part of being a soldier and being prepared for hurricane season.
“In an area characterized by a large, diverse, and increasingly migratory population, our battalion has been and continues to be an organization representative of population base that the citizens of south Florida can always count on,” said Yaegers.
This work, Florida National Guard’s ‘Hurricane Battalion’ is south Florida’s defense during storm season, by SSG Aidana Baez, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.