State Military Forces Help Texans Recover After Hurricane
By Army 1st Sgt. Lek Mateo
Special to American Forces Press Service
RAYMONDVILLE, Texas, July 28, 2008 Residents of the Rio Grande Valley are still feeling the effects of Hurricane Dolly after the second Atlantic hurricane of the 2008 season tore through south Texas on July 23 with damaging wind and torrential rain.
Army Pvt. Mark Rivera of the Texas Army National Guard’s Company A, 72nd Infantry Brigade, and Army Pvt. 1st Class Joseph Davora, Company A, 1st Battalion, 41 Infantry Regiment, carry a woman stranded by flood waters to a waiting truck, where Army Pvt. John Paul Borrego and Army Pvt. 1st Class Christopher Culbelier, both from the Texas National Guard’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 72nd Infantry Brigade, wait. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jennifer D. Atkinson, Texas National Guard
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Remnants of the Category 2 hurricane could still be felt as severe flooding in some coastal cities displaced several hundred families whose homes were destroyed or made inaccessible.
Several thousand people were without electricity at the height of the storm due to downed power lines, but utility companies from all over the state worked tirelessly to restore service.
More than 800 members of the Texas Military Forces, which comprise the Texas Air National Guard, Army National Guard and Texas State Guard, joined forces with local, state and federal emergency responders in a massive relief operation to help the communities recover.
The military effort, under command of the Standing Joint Interagency Task Force, assisted the state's Texas Task Force 1 with search and rescue, food, water and ice distribution, and shelter management.
They established and manned 15 food, water and ice distribution sites and helped to man and administer seven shelter sites run by the Red Cross and other emergency agencies.
The Texas Military Forces had mobile distribution teams working in conjunction with Red Cross, Salvation Army, Department of Public Safety and other agencies. The distribution sites will be manned around the clock until the local authorities determine they are no longer needed.
Air Force Col. John Nichols of the Texas Air National Guard's 149th Fighter Wing in San Antonio, task force commander, said he is proud to lead all three components of the Texas Military Forces involved with this mission.
"This is truly Texans helping Texans, and we are ready for this kind of contingency operation," he said.
U.S. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz, who represents the district affected by the storm, visited one of the distribution sites to see the relief effort first-hand. He commended the countless volunteers, especially the servicemen and women, who came to assist the people of south Texas.
"I want to thank all the military members who were activated and removed from their jobs and their family to come and help," he said. "This shows their dedication and their loyalty to the state and the community, and we appreciate that."
Army Sgt. 1st Class Eliberto Cavazos of the Texas State Guard and a resident of Raymondville, Texas, rode the storm out at the local high school with several members of his unit. The retired city employee said it was great to be able to work together as a team with his counterparts in the Army and Air National Guard and together show the community in which he lives in that the Texas Military Forces can do the job at hand.
"We've received a lot of thanks for coming here and helping from the people in my neighborhood, and that they are truly very grateful. That makes me very proud to be able to serve in uniform," Cavazos stated.
Sharon Stanton, who had been out of power for three days, waited patiently for hours in her car until she reached the front of the line, where several Guardsmen and civilian volunteers quickly loaded her car with precious water and ice. The La Feria, Texas, resident said she knew relief was on the way when she started seeing convoys of large, green National Guard Humvees and trucks arriving in her town hours after Dolly struck.
"The National Guard pretty much has got it together, and they know what they're doing, and that assures me that things are going to get better," she said.
Army Pfc. Michael Morales of the Texas Army National Guard's 449th Aviation Support Battalion based in San Antonio has been in the service for about a year, and this was his first hurricane-relief mission. The private and several civilian volunteers worked at a feverish pace in the oppressive heat and humidity, loading tons of water, food and ice into what seems like endless lines of cars at a distribution site in Harlingen, Texas.
He acknowledged that the work was arduous and back-breaking, but said it was nothing compared to the suffering that residents were going through, days after the hurricane had made landfall. Receiving a simple "thank you" and a smile from those seeking help made the task worthwhile and rewarding, he said.
"It feels good knowing that I can help distribute food and water to those that need it most and hopefully make their lives a little better," he said.
(Army 1st Sgt. Lek Mateo of the Texas National Guard serves in the Texas Military Forces Public Affairs Office.)