News: Indiana National Guard responds to Midwest storms
Story by Staff Sgt. Les Newport
By Staff Sgt. Les Newport
Camp Atterbury Public Affairs
CHICAGO, Ill. -- When late summer storms rolled through the upper Midwest in August, Capt. Jose Cuadra lost electrical power to his house for nine hours. But the life-long resident of Northwest Indiana didn't think much more of the storm for the next two days, even as he made his daily commute to his job in Chicago where he's a biotech engineer for the Veterans Hospital.
"From the interstate, I couldn't really see the damage," said Cuadra. "I wasn't really expecting to be activated."
But as officials assessed the damage and began to realize the extent to which strong winds had affected the area, local communities began looking for help. In particular, historic neighborhoods populated with hundred-year-old oaks, maples and elms struggled with streets and sidewalks buried with arboreal debris.
"When I first surveyed the streets I was astonished," said Cuadra.
The Indiana National Guardsman visited communities throughout the area and realized it was going to take a concentrated and collaborative effort just to make a dent in the clean-up effort. Typical storms in the area will drop a few large branches and keep citizens busy with twigs for a few days, but this was different.
Street after street and block after block were covered with primary branches as large as two feet in diameter. In many cases, whole trees were uprooted and blocking passage.
On advice from the Indiana National Guard's report, Governor Mitch Daniels authorized the state activation of Soldiers to support the recovery efforts.
Alicia Gossage, Superintendent of New Chicago, a small burg to the east of Gary, spent days behind the controls of a front loader, ferrying debris piles to the local landfill.
"I was able to move the smaller debris, but there was no way I was going to be able to move the large stuff," said Gossage.
A week into the recovery, several Indiana National Guard dump trucks provided by the 1313th Engineer Detachment arrived in New Chicago, along with a crew of twenty Soldiers to muscle refrigerator-sized logs into Gossage's front loader.
"These guys are great," said Gossage, as she scrambled to load another truck bound for the fill.
At the same time, other crews were finishing up in Gleason Park, a southeast Gary neighborhood. A parade of Humvees, led by a "deuce-and-a-half" filled with members of the 113th Engineering Battalion and 938th Military Police Company, zigzagged through the streets, pausing long enough for Soldiers to bound from the vehicles with roaring chainsaws and reduce sprawling clutter to manageable piles.
At each stop the crews were met with curious and grateful citizens who emerged to observe, but kept a cautious distance as the branches crashed to the ground and were dragged into heaps along the street.
Staff Sgt. Kendall Calhoun, the non-commissioned officer tasked with managing recovery efforts, sent a reconnaissance team to scout the next work site. The streets of the neighborhood are crisscrossed with numbered streets east to west, and streets named for states north and south. The resulting commands as crews finished an area echoed up and down the streets as Soldier scrambled back into their vehicles.
"39th and Georgia next. 42nd and Virginia after that."
Members of the crews were from many different units across the state. "Most of them have been at it for eight days," said Ferguson. "And not one complaint, not one. Even during the first few days when the rain just wouldn't stop." Record rainfall continued to pour on the operations through the first several days sending some crews on sand bagging missions when flooding threatened.
Calhoun said that he's not surprised considering the reception the crews received from the citizens: "They came out and offered water and Gatorade. When I asked the crews if they wanted to call it a day they said 'No, we're helping people. Let's stay out.'"
By law, the crews were restricted from working on private property and limited to clearing only the streets and sidewalks. "That's the only thing that bothered them, that they couldn't do more," said Calhoun. "But I noticed if there were kids around, they 'somehow' figured out that if they could drag larger pieces to the sidewalk my guys would cut it up."
Calhoun said the children were the biggest motivation for the crews to clear the sidewalks and streets. School had started and they wanted to make sure students had a safe place to walk.
"Surround yourself with good people and let them shine," said Calhoun. "That's my philosophy."