Florida Guard Members Stay Alert for Severe Storms
By Army Staff Sgt. Aidana Baez
53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Jul. 26, 2013 Waiting patiently within the carefully manicured communities of South Florida lies a force so powerful that hurricane-strength winds can’t keep it at bay. Members of the Florida Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, are dedicated to serving the state of Florida and the communities that surround its armories.
Members of the “Hurricane Battalion” get to work during a recent storm in the southeastern United States. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The battalion’s moniker is “Hurricane Battalion,” and with good reason.
Residing in West Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, the members of the battalion are prepared to launch into action and support their communities within a few hours of activation. But in the event of a severe storm, they may be called upon to assist anywhere in Florida, as well as the other Gulf States.
“We are responsible for South Florida, but depending on how bad the storm is, it can be anywhere in the state,” said Army Lt. Col. David Yaegers Jr., the 1st Battalion’s commander. “We are also on call to go to any of the Gulf States; it’s called an EMAC.”
Emergency Management Assistance Compact, commonly known as an EMAC, is the disaster relief compact that offers assistance to states that are in a governor-declared state of emergency, officials said. But it doesn’t take a state of emergency for the battalion to start thinking about hurricane season. As members of a combat-tested infantry battalion, these soldiers know the importance of being ready.
“We stay prepared,” Yaegers said. “We have a series of reports and procedures we do every month to make sure we are ready for state active duty.”
Starting in May, the focus shifts from preparing for hurricane season to planning how to respond, as June is the official start of hurricane season, officials said. Unit administrators begin updating and confirming contact information, evaluating the status of each soldier and ensuring all are identified and prepared for activation. But manpower isn’t the only asset the battalion has to offer. From high-water vehicles to power generators, all equipment is inspected and certified ready in the event of a storm.
And the unit’s soldiers have a variety of skills they bring with them.
“I come from a military police background, and at times we would do ride-alongs with the police officers,” said Army Spc. Eric L. Santiago, a rifleman with Company B, 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment. “But other times we set up PODs.”
A POD is a point of distribution, a location set up to provide public access to emergency supplies, such as food, ice, and water, during a disaster situation.
Some of the most common missions for the battalion include providing high-water vehicles to respond to flooding, traffic control during power outages, crowd control when assisting local and state police and establishing or coordinating a POD.
“We are there to help stabilize the situation,” said Army 2nd Lt. Jose E. Martinez, a platoon leader with Company D, 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment.
Serving the community is the primary role for the citizen-soldiers of the National Guard, and it gives members a sense of pride and gratitude.
“That’s our role, to serve the community,” said Army Staff Sgt. Michael E. Wilkinson, a squad leader with Company B, 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment.
When activated by the governor, state active duty can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. And though conditions may be austere at times, the Guard members enjoy their work.
“I think they get satisfaction from helping out their fellow citizens,” Yaegers said. “Most of them live around here; I think it’s important to them.”
During emergencies, he added, it is equally important to ensure the Guard members’ families are taken care of as well.
If a Guard member’s home or family is directly impacted by a disaster, that member isn’t pulled for duty, said Army Staff Sgt. Servio Tiffer, a squad leader with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment.
“We help the soldier and family recover,” Tiffer said.
Some families are disaster-relief veterans in their own right, so that having family members in the battalion being called up for duty comes as no surprise.
“After 20 years of service, my family is ready and knows what to expect,” Yaegers said. “They are always ready.”
And no matter how experienced the families are with state active duty, the leaders of the battalion continue to stress the importance of communication.
It is all part of being a soldier, and being prepared for hurricane season, Yaegers said.
“In an area characterized by a large, diverse, and increasingly migratory population, our battalion has been and continues to be an organization representative of a population base that the citizens of South Florida can always count on,” he said.