Guard Brushes Off From 'Blizzard' of Callouts
By Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
Special to American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., Feb. 12, 2010 More than 3,000 National Guard members in eight states continue to assist in the massive recovery efforts after back-to-back, history-making winter storms crippled the mid-Atlantic region this week. Video
Army Sgt. Troy Mitchell of the Maryland National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters works to free a Baltimore police vehicle stuck in the snow, Feb. 7, 2010. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jennifer Sardam
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Thousands of government workers were off for almost five days during the closure of federal offices in the national capital region, but the Guard members have been on continuous duty since before the first storm's arrival Feb. 5.
In the nation's capital, about 150 soldiers and airmen from the District of Columbia National Guard continue to transport essential government personnel and support D.C. police officers, firefighters and other emergency responders.
"We have completed more than 500 missions over the course of these two storms," said Army Maj. Gen. Errol R. Schwartz, commanding general of the D.C. National Guard. "We've been operating 12 Humvees stationed at all seven metro police precincts throughout the city, fire stations and the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency. The missions have been nonstop."
In addition to transportation, the D.C. Guard's mission includes logistics, communications, administrative, maintenance and operational support. Guard personnel have operated around the clock in 12-hour shifts.
With a possible third storm in the forecast, the D.C. Guard is prepared to continue its mission into next week.
"As long as the district requests our support, we will be there to do our job," Schwartz said. "This is what we do. I'm very proud of our men and women who volunteered to come in and help the District despite the severe conditions, the danger of driving and in lieu of even taking care of their own circumstances."
Surrounding the District, Virginia and Maryland had about 1,300 soldiers and airmen combined helping their states recover from crippling snowfall amounts of more than three feet in some areas, trapping residents in their homes and shutting out emergency access.
Maryland reported that more than 700 Guard members were assisting civilian responders in snow removal, health and wellness checks and transportation.
A team of Maryland soldiers also rescued a stranded motorist this week. They came upon David Page's vehicle and found the Baltimore resident had been stuck in his car for hours, said Army Lt. Col. Charles Kohler. Plows had piled snow around his car on both sides, making it almost impossible for him to get out.
"There were several vehicles which were abandoned on the roads, and we were checking them all to make sure that everybody was OK," Kohler said.
The Guardsmen gave Page food and water and transported him to a warm location, where he was able to call family members to let them know he was safe.
At one time, more than 150,000 residents were without power in Maryland, including three Guard armories. The soldiers and airmen will continue to assist stranded motorists, provide generator power to key areas and deliver fuel and water until these missions are complete, Guard officials said.
Eight Maryland Guardsmen were awarded state medals for storm assistance, which included delivering a baby, giving cardiopulmonary resuscitation to a heart attack victim and assisting a trauma patient.
The Virginia Guard reported this morning that 500 Guardsmen were on state active duty supporting a variety of storm-response missions, including transporting emergency responders to medical callouts, shelters and stuck vehicles.
Soldiers from Company A, 3rd Battalion, 116th Brigade Combat Team, and volunteer firefighters from the Luray, Va., volunteer fire department were dispatched Feb. 6 to aid a family in Rileyville who were stranded in their home without power.
Soldiers from Company G, 429th Brigade Support Battalion, 116th Brigade Combat Team, based in Norfolk, Va., conducted a patient transport mission Feb. 8 in Fairfax County.
County resident Olive Lewis was not able to make a needed medical appointment for kidney dialysis, so the Fairfax County Emergency Operations Center dispatched the Virginia National Guard to transport her.
“I appreciate the help of the Virginia Guard so much,” said Glenda Lewis, Olive’s daughter. “We would have ended up in the emergency room without this help.”
Army 1st Lt. David Mummert of Yorktown, Spc. Jeremy Anderson of Virginia Beach, and Spc. Christopher Albertson of King William took part in the mission.
“This is why I joined the Guard,” Mummert said. “I served on active duty and we had important missions, but the Guard is more in touch with people around you. You are getting the chance to make a contribution to your community.”
Current Guard missions from the state's department of emergency management include transportation assistance, vehicle recovery and door-to-door health and wellness checks.
Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell said yesterday that his state's National Guard has teamed up with the department of transportation and local authorities, who are continuing to respond to the storms, which "hammered the state over the past week."
“The most serious problems we face continue to be in the southeastern region,” Rendell said.
Pennsylvania had 1,500 soldiers and airmen on duty today conducting similar missions in their state. Their Humvees were seen in major cities, including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and on snow-bound country roads conducting wellness checks on stranded residents.
More than 300 soldiers and airmen from the Delaware National Guard were activated and have conducted nearly 700 missions since Feb. 5, according to their Web site.
Guard officials said a state of emergency is still in effect today and task forces remain on state active duty. Their missions include transporting medical patients, assisting stranded motorists and helping the state's transportation agency clear the roads.
In West Virginia, Guard members were credited with saving lives by local law enforcement officials for their assistance in transporting responders to medical emergencies. They used four-wheel-drive Humvees with high ground clearances to plow through snow-covered roadways, which were under more than three feet of snow.
The state still had about 570 soldiers and airmen on duty today, manning emergency operations centers and supporting civil authorities.
In other parts of the country affected by winter weather, 15 Oklahoma Guardsmen are providing generators, food, water and cots to shelters in the state, and seven soldiers in South Dakota are helping local authorities in the Aberdeen area with re-establishing roads and utilities as well as conducting search and rescue missions.
In Arkansas, eight Guardsmen have completed their missions. They provided four-wheel drive ambulance support to Pulaski and Faulkner counties due to severe winter weather this week. The soldiers were responsible for vehicle operations and transportation of Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services personnel and civilian patients.
The missions were approved by Gov. Mike Beebe and tasked to the Guard by the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management. The 87th Troop Command, with headquarters at Camp Robinson in North Little Rock, Ark., was tasked to support MEMS in Pulaski County with three of the ambulances, 12 stretchers and six soldiers. The Faulkner County mission was tasked to the Guard's 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, with a fourth ambulance with four stretchers and two soldiers.
(Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith serves at the National Guard Bureau.)