News: SC Guardsmen take part in Palmetto Lightning
Story by Sgt. Brad Mincey
GREENVILLE, S.C.— The alert went out. A winter storm was coming. Snow was expected to begin falling with up to six inches of accumulation, then, turning to sleet and freezing rain as the day progressed. The weather was expected to remain foul for days. Many citizens were going to be affected and as always, Soldiers from the South Carolina National Guard were ready to answer the call and help.
Although neither the alert nor scenario was true, there is a real potential for this type of event to happen during the winter months in the upstate.
And when it does, accidents and stalled vehicles blocking traffic are likely problems to arise. In preparation for this likely event, members of the South Carolina National Guard’s 1050th Transportation Battalion conducted wrecker operations where they practiced hitching up and moving civilian vehicles during Operation Palmetto Lightning, Nov. 2.
“This exercise allows us to train and prepare for winter storms,” said Maj. Jerome Dawson, assistant officer in charge of current operations at the Joint Operations Center. “The Guard is often called on to support the needs of the state and local community. And we always want to be ready when the citizens of South Carolina need us.”
One of the Guard’s primary missions is to assist other state agencies during a natural disaster or emergency and the Guard routinely trains for these situations.
Another reason the Guard runs these exercises is to give Soldiers the opportunity to work with new vehicles and equipment. Recently, several units acquired new Medium Tactical Vehicles (MTV), which are typically used for quickly moving stalled or damaged military vehicles. Although the vehicles are similar in overall purpose, some of the Soldiers who had never seen them until today.
“The new vehicles have more technology and equipment than the previous vehicles,” said Spc. James Boykin, a truck driver with the 1053rd Transportation Company, who was seeing the new vehicles for the first time. “So, with this training, I was able to get familiarized with and get used to how to manipulate the wrecker and how to pick up civilian cars and trucks.”
Not only were there differences with the older and the newer MTVs that the Soldiers were becoming accustomed to, they also had to learn the differences between how to hook up military and civilian vehicles.
“Finding a good steady base and getting the chains hooked up properly was probably the most difficult part of the exercise,” said Boykin. “The truck handles the rest. With the civilian vehicles, you have to crawl up under them and find a good place to hook the chains up to.”
“When you hook up to a military vehicle, it has the equipment already there for towing,” said Master Sgt. Ralph Lawson, 1263rd Forward Support Company. “You just put your tow pins in, your safety chains and your lights on and you are ready to tow. With the civilian vehicles, you have to use special tow straps, and chains only. And with these guys going through this training, they will become more proficient at hooking up to POVs (privately owned vehicles).”
The Guard wasn’t the only one training during Operation Palmetto Lightning. Units were training with other first responders at several locations across South Carolina, including Newberry and Spartanburg. The Highway Patrol was working collaboratively with Guard members to conduct communication exercises that tied in directly with towing.
“This is an effort between the Highway Patrol and the South Carolina National Guard that utilizes the Guard’s heavy wreckers,” said Lt. Shawn Stankus, with Troop 3, South Carolina Highway Patrol out of Greenville.
“These exercises help to ensure that our plans can be understood and carried out in the event that this scenario becomes real. When a winter storm hits, we want to provide the needed services to the citizens of the state and try to make the storm have as little impact as possible. And this effort with the National Guard helps us tremendously in doing that.”
A few years ago, during one of the last big storms to hit the upstate, Stankus was able to see this collaboration work first hand.
“We had these vehicles staged at different strategic locations along the interstate and we were able to keep the interstate open from North Carolina to Georgia along I-85,” said Stankus. “When you are dealing with ice, there are some commercial wrecker services that accept calls that they are not capable of, or equipped to handle, and they end up in the same position that the person who called them are in.”
When one vehicle blocks traffic for any length of time, it is very difficult to get traffic flowing smoothly again.
“It’s much more efficient when we have vehicles staged and we can respond quickly, efficiently and we can get the road open again,” said Stankus. “The military vehicles that the Guard uses enable us to do that. It provides a service to the citizens that they may not be aware of.”
After each soldier had the opportunity to watch, assist and teach others how to connect to one type of civilian vehicle, they would move to a different vehicle to perform a similar task. This repetitiveness will instill the necessary skills so that if they are ever called into service, soldiers can quickly react to and resolve problems and get traffic moving again.
“The soldiers did excellent today,” said Dawson. “All three teams had the opportunity to move two different types of vehicles and they did so successfully.”