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    Community First: Utah Guardsmen demonstrate selfless service at home during Operation Wind Debris

    Soldiers clean

    Photo By Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stowell | Soldiers assigned to the Task Force Pioneer clean debris that resulted from major wind...... read more read more



    Story by Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stowell 

    204th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade

    When Caiden Taylor enlisted in the Utah National Guard in 2014 he raised his right hand and swore an oath to defend the Constitution and obey the orders of the President of the United States and of the officers appointed over him.

    It’s an oath very similar to what active duty Soldiers affirm, except that it includes a promise to also defend the constitution of the state of Utah and obey the orders of the governor.

    In early September Gov. Gary Herbert issued an activation order to the Utah National Guard.

    When Taylor, a sergeant in the 118th Transportation Company, learned about the activation, he made good on his oath.

    Massive windstorms pounded Salt Lake and Davis counties on September 7 and 8 causing damage that surpassed a similar storm nine years earlier.

    In Davis County, 100-mph wind knocked over thousands of trees and power lines, “cutting paths of devastation along city streets and damaging emergency communication systems,” according to the Deseret News.

    In North Salt Lake's Rose Park neighborhood, massive trees were uprooted damaging homes, cars, and lifting up sidewalks.

    Taylor wasn’t alone to respond. Nearly 300 members of the Utah National Guard assembled with their units to answer the call. Utah National Guard Soldiers—primarily from the 1457th Engineer Battalion and the 118th Transportation Company—were ready to serve.

    Ready for Service.

    Utah National Guardsmen have made the commitment to respond when called. The Thursday immediately following the windstorms, Herbert issued the order to the Utah National Guard to mobilize.

    Units were in action the next day.

    For Taylor it wasn’t easy.

    “These types of things come when you least expect,” he said. “But we feel like we have the support of [our military] leadership and state officials, so we are happy to help.”

    State military leaders know that sudden activations can be challenging for Soldiers and their families. But the challenge is measured against duty to serve.

    “Part of our ‘Minutemen’ legacy includes a mandate to get boots on the ground swiftly and begin rendering aid to those in need immediately,” said Army Maj. Blake Bingham, commander of the 1457th Engineer Battalion.

    Task Force Pioneer was organized, and the 1457th was given operational control. Bingham assumed command of the task force. Other units assigned to the task force included the 118th Transportation Company, the Utah Training Center, and the 151st Air Refueling Wing.

    The 116th Horizontal Construction Company, subordinate to the 1457th, was the main unit in the field. The 118th Transportation Company, part of the 489th Brigade Support Battalion, gave the task force much needed hauling capabilities. The Utah Training Center, responsible for range operations and training at Camp Williams also pitched in. Its department of public works boasts Soldiers who are skilled at debris removal and brought chainsaws and other hand-held equipment. Airmen from the 151st refueling Wing also helped with debris removal.

    “It’s a challenge to mobilize in a quick and decisive manner,” said Bingham. “We have Soldiers who have civilian jobs. They have to lay those down.”

    Staff Sgt. Thomas McKenna was one of the Soldiers from the 1457th to leave a civilian job.

    “The order came at a tough time for me,” said McKenna, a horizontal construction engineer assigned to the 116th Engineer Company, part of the 1457th.

    McKenna is one of four technicians at a trucking support company. One of McKenna’s teammates was out the same week. For McKenna, leaving his civilian position put a strain on the firm. Still, he was grateful for the opportunity to help.

    “I am thankful for the opportunity to serve the community and the time spent with my Soldiers,” he said. “I always have a good time with my Army family. We do our job right and have fun as well.”

    McKenna and his fellow engineers deployed to various sites in Davis County for the first critical days of the operation, when municipalities were overwhelmed with the task of clean up.

    “We had things to do and the Guard got right to it,” said Randy Randall, director of public works for Centerville City.

    “We were ahead of most cities because we knew what we needed. And the Guard brought in those resources quickly. We were mostly cleaned up by the following Wednesday,” he said.

    Experts in the Field.

    Civilian and military leaders in Utah have made their own commitment to individuals serving in the Utah National Guard by giving them the training and trust to perform important missions.

    “The great thing about putting engineers to work doing an engineer mission like this, is that they are already prepared to do what Utah needs them to do in this type of emergency,” said Maj. Jeremy Wells, the executive officer of the 1457th.

    Wells also served as executive officer of Task Force Pioneer.

    “We have engineers that are not only trained by the Army to be equipment operators, carpenters, surveyors or truck drivers—they are equipment operators, technical and professional engineers in their civilian jobs as well,” said Wells.

    For example, the Soldiers of the 118th Transportation Company were the perfect fit to the puzzle that local officials in Davis and Salt Lake County were trying to solve in the aftermath of the storm.

    Farmington city officials set up a temporary dump site at Glover Lane. But they had a problem getting the material from the temporary site to the landfill.

    Tayor and his fellow 118th Soldiers hauled away hundreds of loads of green waste from the Farmington site.

    In Centerville there were several sites collecting debris. Soldiers of the 116th helped manage those sites and worked directly with Randall.

    During the six days of major operations, the task force deployed more than 50 pieces of heavy equipment to haul away over 6,200 cubic yards of green waste in hundreds of truck loads.

    “We needed eight to ten trucks every day. They gave it to us,” said Randall. “The Soldiers also ran backhoes that we supplied and cleaned up a bunch of parks.”

    Randall has been on the job for 39 years and has worked with the Guard twice before. He said the Guard is getting better and faster at supporting civil operations.

    “With the Guard contacts at the emergency operations center, we could put our requests in and they’d send guys out right away to meet the requests,” he said.

    “They were flexible. Working for local governments is different from fighting in Iraq,” Randall added. “The [Soldiers of the] Utah National Guard did a good job at looking at our local needs and responding appropriately.”

    Bingham saw a similar challenge.

    “Working with civilian authorities and working in a military setting is different, though we have some overlap in how we conduct operations,” Bingham said.

    “We placed liaison officers in the emergency operations centers to help us integrate with the civil authorities and provide them with the level of care they need[ed].”

    “The Soldiers and officers of the 1457th Engineer Battalion applied the training they received as engineers to help Utah communities in need, and that is a great source of pride for the battalion,” said Wells.

    Building Community through Service.

    Ultimately the commitment that Soldiers make is to the people of the country and the state.

    In the space of nine years, National Guard troops were activated twice to respond to heavy wind damage.

    “The biggest takeaway from a big community event like this is how great it is to be a member of the National Guard,” said Bingham. “It’s a unique function we have to be able to participate as Soldiers, but in the community. To give back some of what we’ve earned growing up in some of these communities.”

    In Farmington, one resident saw the Soldiers in action and wanted to say thanks.

    “Our neighborhood uses the same major road the National Guard used to travel to and from the Farmington debris site and we were able to witness close hand the hard work and dedication of the National Guard,” said Alison Dunn.

    She texted her neighbor: “Makes my heart so happy when I keep seeing the Guard out cleaning from the storm.”

    That led to a group discussion about a way to say thanks.

    The women created a banner in hopes that the Soldiers would see it as they drove to the landfill hauling more green waste from Glover Lane .

    “Seeing the trucks and Guardsmen lined up each morning, truck after truck, brought tears to my eyes,” said Dunn. “The power of community in easing the burdens of each other and working together... showed our children and reminded us of the power of people united together and the good that can be accomplished when working together.”

    Dunn thinks it would have taken the residents months to clean up without Guard assistance.

    Another Farmington resident, Clint Chamberlain, is president of his homeowners association and an Army veteran.

    “Our neighborhood got rocked by the wind,” said Chamberlain. “There were a lot of trees, 100-year-old trees, that got knocked down. It was really sad.”

    Chamberlain served as an Army pilot for 17 years including one tour in Afghanistan.

    “It makes me feel doggone proud to see the Guardsmen in our community. They are living the Warrior Ethos and the Army Values.”

    “For so much of our history, especially in the recent past, we’ve seen service members demonstrating selfless service abroad,” said Chamberlain. “But the beauty of the Guard is that we see those values in our communities. Not the active component, not the reserve. The Guard’s service to our state has been understated.”

    Randall thinks that members of his city saw the same thing.

    “There was a lot of appreciation from the residents in our community,” said Randall. “The [Soldiers] were top-notch guys. They were very friendly and personable. That’s important when you’re helping other human beings.”

    Randall credits a close relationship between his community and the Utah National Guard for a successful operation.

    “We had a three-way effort: Our residents all pitched in. Then we had the city coordinating efforts. Finally, the Guard came in and supplemented our resources. It was a good partnership.”

    Taylor, who is the first in his immediate family to serve in the military, said he joined the National Guard with an eye to serving his community. He recalls a family friend who served in the National Guard was part of the force that responded to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

    “I feel a responsibility to help take care of my neighbors,” he said.

    The Soldiers of the 1457th Engineer Battalion demonstrated how relevant they are to Utah’s domestic emergency needs,” added Wells.

    They helped clean up areas identified by civil authorities across 27 different sites among various municipalities. They conducted major operations in Kaysville, Farmington, Centerville, Bountiful, Rose Park, and Salt Lake City.

    “The legacy that the Utah National Guard builds is that they are there to help Utah communities in times of emergency or need. It is also an attitude and culture of neighbors helping neighbors," Wells said.

    Bingham, who grew up in Centerville, recalls being scared of these windstorms when he was a kid. “It’s neat to come full circle and give back to the community that meant so much to me growing up.”

    Operation Wind Debris was an opportunity for the Utah National Guard to give back.

    "Even with all that is going on in our state and country (COVID-19, riots, unemployment) we are all in this together and we need to help each other," said Wells.

    “I think I’m always ready,” said McKenna. “It’s who I am and why I joined—to serve people. Whether it’s responding to wildfires or windstorms, I think I’ll always mentally ready to do whatever it takes.”

    For Taylor, the motivation to serve is clear.

    “Our Soldiers come from all over the state. We live in these communities, so we’ve got to give back to where we live.”



    Date Taken: 11.01.2020
    Date Posted: 01.22.2021 14:14
    Story ID: 387384
    Location: SALT LAKE CITY, UT, US

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