National Guard Responds to Tornado Disaster
By Tech. Sgt. Mike R. Smith, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., Feb. 6, 2008 More than 160 National Guard members turned out today to support recovery missions in three states hit by a violent string of tornadoes last night.
The National Guard Bureau reported that Guard members were called out to perform search and rescue missions, provide security at traffic control points, and to support civilian authorities in other ways in Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Many of the Guard soldiers who responded were undergoing pre-deployment training at the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville, Ky., about five miles from one of the areas hit by a tornado.
At least 52 deaths have been blamed on the unseasonably early storms that swept across Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky.
In Kentucky, 112 Guard members with 16 Humvees and other equipment responded to emergency support requests after the tornados and severe thunderstorms caused widespread power outages and damage to homes and businesses. Central City officials called for Guard support after a tornado struck Muhlenberg County. The Kentucky Guard Mobile Command Post is being deployed to Muhlenberg County to provide phones and data capability to the county government.
Thirty-three soldiers from the Louisville-based 223rd Military Police Company, which was in Greenville for pre-deployment training, assisted the Kentucky State Police and local law enforcement in Central City. They were later relieved by 24 soldiers from the 307th Maintenance Company.
The 307th also is operating Guard heavy equipment, including 15 Humvees, a wrecker and a bus. Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 623rd Field Artillery, were on standby with four Army Guard helicopters: two UH-60s and two OH-58s.
In Monroe Country, the 623rd Field Artillery is providing 22 soldiers and four Humvees for security support to the Kentucky State Police and local law enforcement in Tompkinsville and Gamaliel. The unit will provide 24-hour security operations there.
The 63rd Aviation Brigade has provided 10 soldiers and two UH-60s to fly Gov. Steve Beshear as well as Kentucky Guard and Emergency Management officials to assess the disaster areas.
The 149th Brigade Support Battalion, located in Bowling Green, was tasked to provide six soldiers to prepare equipment for a potential response in western Kentucky and as a possible relief force for the 307th and 623rd.
In Tennessee, about 20 Guard members with two heavy wreckers were helping local crews restore power by transporting support vehicles through storm-damaged areas to work sites. The Tennessee Guard also had one UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter providing aerial search and damage assessment for Gov. Phil Bredesen and emergency management personnel. The Tennessee Guard also set up three armories as Red Cross shelters.
In Arkansas, officials reported that 28 soldiers from the 142nd Fires Brigade, stationed at Fort Smith, were dispatched with nine Humvees to the town of Atkins, northwest of Little Rock. There, Guard members were assisting search and rescue personnel and removing debris from the area where officials said the first tornados touched down in the state. A half dozen counties were hit by the storms.
Maj. Keith Moore, an Arkansas Guard spokesman, said Gov. Mike Beebe declared states of emergency for some of the damaged areas. He said the Army Guard was operating two UH-60s to assist the governor and emergency management personnel who were assessing the damage.
In Mississippi, officials at the state Army Guard's Southaven Armory reported minor damage from a tornado that struck in Southaven. Mississippi Guard members were assessing damage to the armory and its equipment, but no requests for Guard support have yet been reported.
(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mike R. Smith serves at the National Guard Bureau.)