Indiana National Guard Responds to Weather Emergency
By Sgt. John Crosby
Indiana National Guard
INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 3, 2011 Indiana National Guardsmen are just beginning to draw down their forces after more than 1,000 soldiers and airmen responded to severe weather across the state this week as it and much of the country saw some of the most brutal winter weather in decades.
Indiana National Guard Staff Sgt. Joseph Magers of Greenville, Ind., and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Shad Harth of Speedway, Ind., set up a communication antenna at the Shelbyville Armory in the aftermath of a winter storm, Feb. 1, 2011. Indiana National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Les Newport
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
For the past three days, Guardsmen provided on-call assistance to local police and fire departments to rescue stranded motorists, transport residents to shelters, assist ambulance and medical support in areas that civilian emergency services could not reach, and ran logistical missions transporting fuel, chainsaws and other equipment where fallen debris had blocked roads.
Two storm fronts blanketed central Indiana in several inches of ice and up to 20 inches of snow in northern parts of the state on Feb. 1 and 2 resulting in more than 4,500 airline flight cancellations, 87,500 power outages, hundreds of school and business closures, and traffic accidents across the state. Bitterly cold temperatures and wind gusts of up to 45 mph caused whiteouts, downed trees and power lines.
Soldiers and airmen created on-site operations centers in 44 National Guard armories across the state, working through the night Feb. 1 in preparation to provide assistance as several counties declared states of emergency.
“We were well postured to respond to this emergency in whatever capacity the governor and the Indiana Department of Homeland Security needed us to respond to,” Joint Task Force 81 Commander Col. Mark E. Coers said. “I think we were postured in every location to do that, and in the cases where we were given missions, we have succeeded.”
The task force is responsible for all military forces responding within Indiana. Coers and his staff helped orchestrate military assistance to civil authorities with pre-planned, specialized teams including some in urban search and rescue, vehicle extraction and evacuation, as well as those designed to augment emergency personnel, perform debris removal and provide security.
“It’s the versatility of our vehicles to traverse poor terrain that makes us special here,” Coers said. “In several cases, we responded to areas where police and emergency vehicles could not get to. We had the ability to get there and get them out of harm’s way.”
In one such case, soldiers and airmen under the 122nd Fighter Wing from Ft. Wayne came to the aid of a sheriff whose vehicle became stuck while trying to rescue a stranded motorist.
The Guard units will keep their command and control systems in place until the Indiana Adjutant General determines through the joint task force commanders to take them down, Air Force Col. David Augustine, 122nd Fighter Wing commander, said.
Augustine is in control of one of three major regions that were under distress during and after the storm. His team of more than 350 soldiers and airmen evacuated residents from their homes in Connersville and moved them to warming stations after a major power outage there.
Additionally, Guardsmen continue to provide assistance to the Gary Police Department on an on-call basis. They also assisted emergency services in eastern Delaware County where they saved the life of a patient in respiratory arrest.
As weather and road conditions improve, the Indiana Guard draws down, but still is providing assistance in troubled areas throughout the state.
“Our soldiers and leaders out there have done a great job in preparing for this and supporting the citizens of the state of Indiana the way they expect us to support them,” Coers said.