Virginia Guard Assists West Virginia Water Response
By Cotton Puryear
Virginia National Guard
SANDSTON, Va., Jan. 17, 2014 Two soldiers from the Fort Belvoir, Va.,-based 29th Infantry Division’s Domestic All-Hazards Response Team Coordination Cell deployed to Charleston, W.Va., Jan. 11 to assist the West Virginia National Guard response to a water contamination crisis that left thousands without potable water.
“It was a great feeling to be able to deploy and help my neighbors out when they really needed us,” said Army Capt. Mitchell Bierl, a liaison officer with the 29th Infantry Division. “This was also was a great opportunity to see what we had done right and that our training and prior coordination enabled us to respond to this emergency quickly and effectively.”
West Virginia officials issued water restrictions beginning Jan. 9 after discovering that about 7,500 gallons of a chemical had leaked into the Elk River just above a drinking water plant.
Residents in nine West Virginia counties were told to stop using their water for everything except flushing toilets. More than 500 members of the West Virginia National Guard have been on duty assisting with water testing and distribution of bottled water to residents.
Once they arrived, the 29th Infantry Division team established a relationship with the staff of the West Virginia Guard Joint Operations Center and began assessing what the state might need for its response efforts.
Bierl explained that the DCC has the ability to look at capabilities in National Guard units across the entire United States and can make recommendations to the impacted state on what resources might be of benefit to their situation.
After assessing the kind of outside support West Virginia might need to effectively respond to the situation, the team came up with a list of what they might need and what each state could provide.
Possible additional resources included transportation, water purification and public affairs.
The West Virginia Guard worked closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency throughout the entire operation and was able to handle the situation with organic assets, Bierl said.
This was the first time the 29th had deployed anyone since it became the primary DART, but Bierl had previously deployed to New York in support of Hurricane Sandy response operations in 2012.
“It was a great experience working with the West Virginia National Guard,” Bierl said. “They offered us a warm welcome and proved to be a very tight-knit and professional organization.”
The team returned to Fort Belvoir Jan. 14.