Guardsmen in Two States Respond to Winter Storm
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy
Special to American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., Dec. 10, 2009 As the first major winter storm of the season continues to drop snow and ice throughout the Midwest, elements of the Iowa and Wisconsin National Guard are ready to assist state and local authorities in responding to emergency calls.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Jason Mannarino of the Wisconsin National Guard hooks up a chain to pull snowplow from a snow bank, Dec. 9, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Vaughn R. Larson
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
More than 40 Iowa Guard members have been on duty since Dec. 8 in preparation for the storm, said Army Maj. Michael Wunn, public affairs officer for the Iowa National Guard. Though the storm wasn’t expected to hit until the early morning hours, Guard members were called in early to be in place when the storm hit.
“It can take awhile to put people on duty,” Wunn said yesterday, “so rather than wait until the middle of the night to start calling people in, … we went ahead and called those people up and pre-staged them so that they were in position this morning … [to] assist when the calls came in.”
Most of those calls have been focused on assisting stranded motorists. “[The] primary mission is to work with state and local authorities to assist stranded motorists and help close primary roads to traffic if the need arises,” Wunn explained.
The Iowa Guard is ready for other contingencies as well. “In this situation, it’s all been focused on highways and motorists,” Wunn said. “In previous years, when we’ve had an ice storm, we’ve sent those teams out when there have been downed power lines and a need to go check on homes and that sort of thing.”
Planning for the storm response started several months ago.
“We started more than two months ago, reviewing our winter storm plan, and we pre-staged some vehicles and we put cots and blankets at various locations across the state that could be used in the event that we needed to assist communities with warming centers, which we haven’t had to do in this situation,” Wunn said, noting that being prepared is one of the reasons why the Iowa Guard has been able to assist local authorities easily.
“Preparedness is the key,” he said, “and getting units identified to provide that capability, and getting the vehicles staged, and having chains on the tires so that they’re ready to go.”
The Iowa Guard has sent a few teams out to help with stranded motorists, Wunn said, but the streets have been largely empty.
“People had quite a bit of notice about this storm and a lot of information was out there, and I think, for the most part, people have heeded the advice from the local authorities and have stayed off the roads,” he said.
Meanwhile, about 100 Wisconsin Guard members are on standby orders in case local authorities need assistance.
“Currently, the Wisconsin National Guard has not been called out to assist local authorities,” said Army Lt. Col. Jacqueline Guthrie, public affairs officer for the Wisconsin Guard. “But we stand ready should we be needed.”
If called upon, the Wisconsin Guard would perform similar missions as the Iowa Guard and assist with responding to stranded motorists, traffic control and health and welfare checks.
Guthrie added that the Wisconsin National Guard has resources available across the state to respond if civilian authorities request assistance.
Army Maj. David May, the Wisconsin National Guard's deputy director of operations for domestic support, said a number of tactical vehicles equipped for blizzard conditions – Humvees, 5-ton trucks and heavy expanded mobility tactical trucks, along with operators – are available to respond to this storm.
If called upon, Guard members might assist the state patrol in searching for stranded motorists along snow-clogged highways or deliver food and water to motorists and other displaced citizens at emergency collection sites.
National Guard armories and other facilities could be opened as collection sites if the need arises, May added.
In addition, the Wisconsin National Guard's two Army aviation units have flight crews available, once the weather improves, to conduct air searches along highways for traffic accidents or blockages, as well as stranded motorists.
May explained that because the Wisconsin Guard is monitoring the events as they unfold in the state emergency operations center, it can be proactive in its response. As various agencies identify needs, appropriate resources can also be identified within the EOC and directed as needed.
The storm was expected to continue for much of the day yesterday before passing on. With the rest of the week expected to remain cloudy and cold, but with no additional snowfall, Guard members will start to be released from duty.
“I think the winds are supposed to die down this afternoon,” Wunn said yesterday. “We’ll continue doing recovery operations and then start bringing those teams back to their home armories. I think everyone should be off active duty in the next day or so.”
(Army Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy serves at the National Guard Bureau.)