Guardsmen Support Hurricane Charley Recovery Operations
By Master Sgt. Bob Haskell, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla., Aug. 16, 2004 More than 4,000 members of the Florida National Guard were on duty today to support recovery operations from Hurricane Charley's devastation Aug. 13 across southwest and central Florida.
The 4,372 Guard members are either conducting missions in support of a massive relief effort by civilian agencies or preparing to respond to requests for assistance after reporting to armories and other facilities throughout the state.
National Guard liaison personnel were assigned to every county in the disaster area, and aviation support was available to airlift personnel, supplies and equipment into areas where roads remained blocked from the storm's debris.
Florida Army and Air National Guard troops were concentrating their efforts in Florida's southwestern Lee, Charlotte and Collier counties, where the Category 4 storm packing 145 mph winds first struck.
The storm was responsible for at least 16 deaths and more than $10 billion, it was reported on Aug. 15, the day President Bush visited the hardest-hit areas around Punta Gorda, a western coastal community that Charley all but wiped out.
Guard task forces were taking part in Operation Gulf Winds to help the million or so Floridians who were left homeless or without electrical power and running water in the wake of the most powerful hurricane to hit Florida since Hurricane Andrew struck in August 1992. As many as 6,200 Guard members took part in that recovery operation, recalled Lt. Col. Ron Tittle, a Florida Guard spokesman.
The Guard was primed to cope with Charley because officials had begun preparing to deal with Tropical Storm Bonnie, which came ashore in Florida's western panhandle the day before and quickly moved north, causing little damage.
"We stood up for both storms," explained Col. Alan Petty, the Operation Gulf Winds operations officer. "Bonnie was never forecast to become a hurricane, but we believed that Charley was going to be a lot worse." That certainly proved to be the case.
"We are dealing with a lot of the things that are making the victims victims," said Florida Army Guard Brig. Gen. Michael Fleming at the National Guard's command center in St. Augustine. Fleming is the assistant adjutant general for the Florida Army Guard.
"Look in the eyes of your fellow soldiers. Make sure they are not getting too tired," Fleming advised Guard commanders during an Aug. 15 briefing. "Otherwise, you are doing great work, so keep it up."
Guard missions included:
- Providing high-wheeled vehicles for access to flood zones and other devastated areas;
- Search and rescue teams;
- Providing other equipment such as portable lights;
- Aviation support for local, state and federal officials who had to assess the damage;
- Security personnel to support local law enforcement agencies; and
- Communications and media relations.
Army Guard aviation assets at Florida's disposal included helicopters from Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas and Oklahoma, Florida officials said.
A Florida Guard logistical staging area and warehouse area is located in Lakeland, officials explained, and the Florida Guard is providing support to states that receive and deliver supplies and equipment to affected areas.
Elsewhere, 273 Army and Air Guard members were on duty in North Carolina by the night of Aug. 14 to deal with Charley, which was downgraded to a tropical storm after blowing out of Florida and then veering into that state. But that number had been reduced to 10 Army Guard troops by the evening of Aug. 15, according to the Army Guard's Readiness Center in Arlington, Va.
(Army Master Sgt. Bob Haskell is assigned to the National Guard Bureau.)