PINELLAS PARK, Fla. — The threat of hurricanes can loom ominously over a joyful summertime in Florida, but because of the ever-vigilant and selfless service of the Florida National Guard, citizens can enjoy themselves a little more knowing that the state emergency responders are well prepared for any natural disaster.
This is why soldiers of the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team are taking part in a statewide hurricane preparedness exercise at the C.W. Bill Young Armed Forces Reserve Center in Pinellas Park, Fla., this week.
The 2012 Statewide Hurricane Exercise partners the Florida National Guard with federal, state, and local agencies to simulate emergency response efforts in the event a hurricane makes landfall anywhere in the state.
Working in conjunction with the 53rd IBCT are service-members from the other branches of the U.S. military and officials from U.S. Northern Command, which is the unified command responsible for the contiguous United States including Alaska, Canada and Mexico.
Leading from the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee, the Florida Division of Emergency Management’s State Emergency Response Team has centered the exercise on the fictitious Hurricane Gispert, named in honor of retired Hillsborough County Emergency Management Director Larry Gispert. The fabricated storm had a simulated landfall in the Tampa Bay area.
This year approximately 9,000 Florida National Guard soldiers and Airmen are available to support disaster response operations.
In addition to preparing for the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season during the exercise, the 53rd IBCT has the supplemental task of reviewing operations to support the Republican National Convention, being held in Tampa, Aug. 27-30. If a hurricane threatens the Tampa Bay area during the convention, the National Guard will be available to support response efforts.
Leaders of the 53rd IBCT, who returned from an overseas deployment in December 2010, are looking forward to the chance to serve in such a visible capacity in the local community.
“It speaks volumes to me about the Governor and the Adjutant General’s confidence that they have in our ability to perform the mission,” said brigade operations non-commissioned officer in charge Sgt. Maj. Richard M. Zakrzewski. “We’ve gotten some pretty good accolades from our deployments and I think that’s lent itself to a pretty good reputation for the brigade.”
soldiers of 53rd IBCT were one of the first to cross over into Iraq at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom and in 2010 the brigade conducted convoy security operations during the troop and equipment withdrawal phase of Operation New Dawn, leading to the end of combat operations in Iraq.
While concerned about having to leave their families in the case of a hurricane, veterans and enlisted leaders of the 53rd IBCT are definitely looking forward to getting their boots on the ground in case of a statewide deployment .
“For me and my family, my wife understands that sometimes you’re going to get called up and it’s going to be for a better cause,” said Staff Sgt. Daniel S. Huffman, infantry squad leader and assistant battle NCO of the event.
While the task of completing any mission they are called upon is paramount, the soldiers recognize that the safety and wellbeing of Florida’s citizens and their families is foremost in their minds.
“The National Guard provides a certain level of comfort just by their mere presence out there because we’ve been called upon so many times to assist the citizens of Florida,” said Maj. Reinaldo Montero, 53rd IBCT public affairs officer. “Our presence is a calming effect.”
The 2012 Atlantic Hurricane season begins Friday, June 1 and runs to Nov. 30.