JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. - As Hurricane Sandy tore its way across the eastern seaboard of the United States, the military joined forces with federal, state and local authorities to help community members weather the storm and deal with its aftermath.
A silent partner in this effort is the network of Army Reserve facilities that is woven throughout the nation’s local communities and can serve a myriad of functions before, during and after a catastrophic event.
“One of the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina (in 2005) was to identify what reserve-component facilities, equipment and forces are available in the event of a natural disaster,” explained Maj. Gen. William D. Razz Waff, commanding general of the Army Reserve’s 99th Regional Support Command and senior commander of Fort Dix, N.J., and Fort Devens, Mass.
The 99th RSC controls more than 350 Army Reserve facilities throughout its 13-state area of responsibility, which stretches from Maine to Virginia. While many of these centers were themselves threatened by Hurricane Sandy, they were also in a perfect position to offer much-needed assistance to local communities.
“In Breezy Point, the New York City Fire Department asked if they could keep some equipment there in the parking lot and storage area (of our facility),” said Waff.
“This was an extremely difficult fire to fight because of waist-high flooded roadways and strong sustained winds,” said FDNY Spokesperson Frank Dwyer of the six-alarm fire that ultimately destroyed 111 homes in Breezy Point. “Staging areas were critical to safely operate, to continue to bring in additional resources and to maneuver those resources to the most beneficial positions for fighting this fire.”
Although the destruction in Breezy Point was extensive, the FDNY’s use of the local Army Reserve facility likely helped avoid even further loss.
“We’re also offering support to the City of New York for their teams that are going to be pumping water out, and we‘ve offered billeting space for them at Fort Hamilton at our new Armed Forces Reserve Center there,” Waff added.
While the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 codified the use of Army Reserve assets for support to civil authorities during homeland crises, this is not the first time the Reserve has utilized its facilities for civil support in an emergency situation.
“We did this last year with Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, when we offered the use of some of our brand-new facilities to our National Guard colleagues when they were either flooded out of their headquarters or power was out,” Waff explained.
Such was the case in Vermont this past year, where the soon-to-be-opened Rutland Armed Forces Reserve Center housed visiting Maine National Guard Soldiers who were providing disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Irene.
Although little can be done to bend the will of Mother Nature, the Army Reserve remains committed to providing emergency relief at the community level by being ready to respond with the unique benefits its units, personnel and facilities have to offer.
“I’m very impressed by our great Reserve Soldiers and Civilians who are leaning forward, still working hard,” said Waff of those Army Reserve personnel working around the clock to provide assistance to their fellow community members in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. “It’s absolutely the right thing to do.”