Florida Guard Prepares for Potential Hurricane Relief Mission
By Jon Myatt
Special to American Forces Press Service
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla., Aug. 29, 2008 As central and northern Florida communities recover from Tropical Storm Fay's flood waters, Florida’s Department of Military Affairs and the state’s National Guard are refitting and shifting focus to the potential effects of other storms.
Members of the 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, make their way past a makeshift tow truck in a high-water vehicle as they search flooded roads and properties Aug. 22, 2008, in search of people who need assistance or evacuation in Steen, Fla., in the wake of Tropical Storm Fay. The Florida National Guard continues to assist civilian agencies with nearly 500 soldiers and airmen supporting logistical operations and high-water vehicle rescue across central and northern Florida, and is preparing for more work as Tropical Storm Gustav zeroes in on the U.S. Gulf Coast. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Andrew Hillegass, 107th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Florida National Guard leaders returned to the Joint Force Headquarters in St. Augustine on Aug. 25 from the state emergency operations center in Tallahassee expecting another weather threat.
While most of the 500 Guard members activated to help during Tropical Storm Fay had returned to their civilian jobs, the Florida National Guard core emergency support team continued to monitor weather conditions in "Hurricane Alley."
With forecasters eyeing two Atlantic storms -- Tropical Storm Gustav and Tropical Storm Hanna -- as the Labor Day weekend approaches, the possibility of another activation of the Florida National Guard is becoming more probable, Guard leaders said. Gustav is expected to make landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast as a Category 3 hurricane early Sept. 2.
"We are just entering the historically active part of hurricane season," said Army Maj. Gen. Douglas Burnett, adjutant general of Florida. "Although Tropical Storm Fay did not produce damaging high-speed winds that a Category 3 or 4 [hurricane] would have, the resulting flood waters required a significant state response that was a very good tune-up for our emergency response team.
"The public got to see the National Guard at work -- Guard-members and vehicles moving from armories to affected communities, providing assistance to people in distress," he said.
The Guard continuously reviews its mix of personnel to ensure the right skills are placed at the right location, along with the right number of troops to do the tasks, he explained. These "after-action" assessments ensure the troops not needed are released from state active duty so they can return to their families, jobs and educational institutions.
"We are able meet our mission requirements by preparing sufficient numbers of Guardsmen to meet any anticipated weather event," Burnett said. "We have a great deal of recent experience and know that when one weather event has passed, we could have another on the horizon. It is critical to our long term success to have enough capable people available who are also rested and motivated."
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has ensured that the Florida National Guard and its leaders are included in all executive-level planning for emergencies. For Tropical Storm Fay, he declared a state of emergency for Florida, signing an executive order three days before the storm made landfall.
"The reason we do that is to be able to cooperate with state agencies and local authorities," Crist said Aug. 17, during his initial news conference for Tropical Storm Fay.
Guard leaders say they’re committed to one primary task: ensuring the Florida National Guard adequately supports agencies directly responsible for taking care of Florida citizens. To accomplish this mission, the Florida National Guard has more than 9,000 soldiers and airmen available who can respond to various emergencies in Florida, including efforts to deter terrorist-related activities.
"The Guard has continuous contact and coordination with the Florida Division of Emergency Management in Tallahassee, and our joint emergency operations center and planning cells ensure the capability to rapidly build-up personnel and equipment if needed," Army Lt. Col. Ron Tittle, the Guard's chief spokesman, said. "We have extensive experience in responding to emergencies."
Florida National Guard soldiers and airmen are trained and equipped for a wide range of life support, security and public safety missions, he said.
Additional personnel and equipment can be mobilized quickly from other states if needed. The Florida National Guard can also request additional personnel and resources from other states through the National Guard Bureau, as part of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, Tittle explained.
(Jon Myatt works for the Florida Department of Military Affairs.)