News: National Guard essential in storm response
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Jim Greenhill
ARLINGTON, Va. – National Guard members have played a key role in the large-scale, coordinated, whole-of-government response to the domestic emergencies triggered by Superstorm Sandy and Winter Storm Athena, saving lives, protecting infrastructure and supporting recovery.
“Teamwork between all responding agencies, dual status commanders in New York and New Jersey, Emergency Management Assistance Compacts and the National Guard Coordination Center here have been some of the key ingredients of success tackling the aftermath of these storms,” said Army Gen. Frank Grass, the chief of the National Guard Bureau.
“We are incredibly fortunate to have a force of citizen-soldiers and airmen who have spent more than a decade serving at home and overseas and have reached a peak of readiness in the National Guard's almost 376-year history,” Grass said. “These are highly trained troops, many of them combat veterans, using some of the best equipment we have ever had. They continue to perform magnificently at home and overseas.
“What is perhaps most striking to me is that after more than a decade of a high operational tempo, Guard members are eager to serve and to meet our nation's needs both here at home and overseas,” he said. “We had troops showing up in uniform at their local readiness centers before they had even been called, before Sandy had even hit. We had troops helping their neighbors even though their own homes had been damaged. We are just privileged as a nation to benefit from that kind of incredible spirit for service.”
At the peak of operations, almost 12,000 Guard members from 21 states and the District of Columbia supported the response.
“Guard members' families and their employers should also take credit for helping people affected by these storms,” Grass said. “Without supportive families and employers, we could not do what we do.”
This morning, more than 2,800 army and Air National Guard citizen-soldiers and -Airmen from 10 states continued the recovery. The National Guard Bureau continues to work 24/7 to match National Guard capabilities nationwide with community and state needs.
According to the National Guard Coordination Center:
The nation's first military responders have brought their military and civilian-acquired skills to search for and rescue those who took a direct hit from the superstorm; support shelter operations; go door-to-door checking on people's well-being; clear debris; distribute fuel and generators and provide security, transportation, traffic control and communications.
Citizen-soldiers and -Airmen helped hand out 2.35 million meals, 1.4 million bottles of water and 150,000 blankets to affected residents in New York, where Minutemen and women hauled off more than 13,400 cubic yards of debris, flew 274 hours of rotary wing missions and fueled more than 17,500 emergency vehicles.
“We want it to get back to the normalcy that New York is,” Army Lt. Col. James Freehart of the New York National Guard told NY1, New York City's 24-hour news channel. “Everybody that's with me in the New York Army National Guard wants to see it stood back up, get to our lives and see these people regain their sense of normalcy and their place.”
“Never imagined we'd have to have the military do this for us. You see them do it in other countries,” a Breezy Point, N.Y., resident told NY1. “The amount of trash and rubble that they took away, we couldn't have handled this on our own. There's no way. It's very important that they were here.”
West Virginia Guard members helped their own communities with food and water distribution and power generation and route clearance even as they also sent generator assessment teams in mutual aid to New Jersey and New York.
In New Jersey and New York, National Guard dual-status commanders – Army Brig. Gen. James Grant and Army Brig. Gen. Michael Swezey – are coordinating active duty, National Guard and Reserve forces providing Defense Department support to civilian authorities.
“The dual-status commander concept is a tremendously powerful tool for responsiveness, command and control, continuity of operations and coordination that is providing greatly improved communication, collaboration and coordination in domestic responses,” Grass said.
In each affected state, the National Guard is responding as directed by the governor to support civilian authorities. At the federal level, our interagency and military partners such as the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Northern Command, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Defense Logistics Agency engage daily to match response and recovery capabilities nationwide with community and state needs.
Through Emergency Management Assistance Compacts, governors can draw on thousands of additional National Guard troops from other states, with all of the training, equipment and capabilities they offer.
Among highlights of the response tracked by the National Guard Coordination Center:
• Air National Guard C-5 Galaxy, C-17 Globemaster, C-27J Spartan and C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft from 16 units hauled more than 2,160 tons of water, food, power generation equipment and supplies in 38 airlift missions. Almost 1,000 Air National Guard members from 12 states delivered water, food, blankets, shelter materials, rescue personnel, power generators, utility trucks, high mobility multi-purpose wheeled vehicles – commonly known as Humvees – high-wheeled trucks and boats.
• Army National Guard C-23 Sherpa military transport aircraft ferried supplies and personnel to affected areas.
• Six Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and four CH-47 Chinook helicopters from five states converged on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, a staging point to support search and rescue and survey team movements and aerial reconnaissance.
• National Guard Joint Incident Site Communications Capability systems provided enhanced communications for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's cell at Bennett Field and for the 42nd Infantry Division at Camp Smith, N.Y.
• Connecticut Guard members distributed 515,135 bottles of water, 204,624 Meals-Ready-to-Eat, 3,950 blankets and 4,698 tarpaulins.
• New York Guard members assisted Hudson Valley Electric identifying downed power lines, supported crews repairing electrical grids and distributed critical power repair assets, in addition to conducting door-to-door wellness checks in high-rise apartments, hauling debris and distributing food, water and blankets.
• In New Jersey, Guard members evacuated almost 7,000 stranded residents; handed out meals, water, blankets, cots and towels; pumped 190,000 gallons of fuel to first responders, power restoration crews and generators and assisted with power generation. Guard members provided tents and mobile kitchen trailers to shelter and feed emergency management personnel and provided transportation.
“You didn't have to travel far to find them,” said Army Staff Sgt. Katie Cataldo, whose New Jersey National Guard unit helped rescue 2,000 people. She told www.nj.com, “There were entire streets of people who needed our help.”
The residents were grateful. “Don't let them kid you,” one told www.nj.com. “These people in the National Guard are too modest. Katie has been working around the clock for us.”
• West Virginia Guard members distributed 891,648 bottles of water, 173,376 Meals-Ready-to-Eat and 21 pallets of pet food.
• Forty-seven National Guard chaplains from 12 states helped residents, first responders and service members.
After one Delaware unit returned home Wednesday, the state's adjutant general, Army Maj. Gen. Frank Vavala, told public broadcaster WHYY News, “They did spectacular work up there, aiding the citizens of New York in this catastrophic disaster, and we're real proud of the great job that they have done. I got around and talked to them. They were very enthusiastic. They have a great sense of self-satisfaction because they know they helped Americans in need.”
According to www.nj.com:
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie repeatedly singled out his National Guard's role in the response, telling how the mayor of one town told him, “The whole tenor and tone of the town changed when the National Guard showed up.
“People weren't scared anymore,” Christie said. “That's a tremendous gift to the people ... who are suffering with enormous destruction of their homes and their personal property and their lives, to have the safety and security of knowing that their homes won't be looted – not only because the state police and law enforcement are there, but also by the very visible presence of the New Jersey National Guard.”
As the Hurricane Sandy response continued, more than 8,900 Guard members remained tasked with force and key asset protection, Counterdrug operations and the Southwest border mission, among other domestic operations, while more than 32,900 supported overseas operations Thursday, including in Afghanistan, the Balkans, Djibouti, Guantanamo Bay, Honduras, Kuwait and the Sinai peninsula of Egypt.