News: W.Va. Power: Team of W.Va. National Guard Members Aid New Yorkers Following Sandy
By U.S. Army Sgt. Sara Yoke
West Virginia National Guard
BROOKYLN, N.Y. - An ominous sky, promising more rain, laid heavy over Brooklyn. People guarding umbrellas and carrying food from a nearby supply location looked like they just wanted to go back home to a normal life. However, Hurricane Sandy shattered that normalcy a week before.
A small team of W.Va. National Guard members with varying backgrounds in generator repair and power production were tasked to provide support to the people of New York, specifically in Brooklyn and Queens. More than a week after Sandy’s deadly reach destroyed homes and plunged the city into darkness, recovery efforts were continuing.
On Nov. 3, the W.Va. National Guard received a request from New York to provide personnel who had knowledge of power production and generator repair. The next day, two WVNG Humvees and seven Guard members were flying out of the 130th Airlift Wing in Charleston W.Va., bound for Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.
“I didn’t have any time to think about it, I just said yes,” said Senior Airman Jared Brotsky, a power production specialist with the 130th Civil Engineer Squadron. “I thought it would be a really good experience.”
The varied backgrounds of the team members gave them a solid foundation of knowledge about power production, a specific and valuable skill given the widespread power outages in New York.
Colder temperatures and the prolonged power outages were making life miserable for thousands of people.
“This is why I’m in the Guard. I really truly believe we provide a needed service,” said Sgt. 1st Class Marty Newman, an electronic maintenance supervisor with the 3664th Maintenance Company, West Virginia Army National Guard. “We are here to respond when these situations happen.”
The W.Va. National Guard has service members who are not only qualified in their military specialty, but willing to leave their civilian lives behind -- careers, families, obligations -- at a moment’s notice to put on their uniform and go to where they are needed.
Newman, who works for Marshall University’s physical plant, where he oversees all the academic and administrative buildings on the campus, acknowledged that being in the Guard can put a strain on his life at home, but that his employer understands, as does his family.
Once in New York, the team received its first mission to help Company C, 249th, a Prime Power Unit from Fort Belvoir, Va. The mission was to assess an apartment building basement that housed a boiler that, when operational, provides heat and water to 23 additional buildings, with approximately 600 people calling each building home.
The team inspected the boiler, consulting with members of Co. C, while Marines were busy pumping 3,000 to 4,000 remaining gallons of water out of the basement, which had been deterring progress. Neman, who is responsible for the operation of boilers in his civilian job, worked with other team members and made recommendations to the authorities on what was needed to get the boiler operational.
As Sandy’s power came ashore, water from the Jamaican Bay and the Atlantic Ocean both surged, placing the peninsula where the four-block area of apartments sits in its crosshair.
“It was like water just blanketed the whole place. Sea water rose all the way up to the first floor,” Luis Hernandez, the assistant property maintenance supervisor said. “It’s going to be a long process, but I’m sure people are glad to see some help here.”
As Election Day came, the team strategically maneuvered the two Humvees through the streets of Brooklyn and Queens to different assessment sites. Storm damaged property and debris lined many streets, forming small mountains. Residents looked weary but gave a wave or a thumb’s up upon seeing the Humvees roll past. Other agency and authority vehicles were dotted throughout the routes.
Another apartment assessment revealed that entire electrical panels would have to be replaced. More than 10 feet of salt water had flooded the basement where the electrical system was.
“The salt in the sea water and the copper in the electrical wires reacted, causing quick corrosion,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Brian Walker, a power production specialist with the 130th Civil Engineer Squadron.
New Yorkers are known to be tough, but even they need assistance sometimes. The W.Va. National Guard service members are using their breadth of experiences from military training, civilian education and deployment’s “lessons learned” to become a partner in bringing relief to the citizens of New York.
“People are people,” said Army Staff Sgt. Jeremy Middleton, the communications non-commissioned officer for the team’s mission.
“Let’s go do our job, that’s what I say. We are happy to help.”