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Guard Members Gear Up for Hurricane Ike

By Army Sgt. S. Patrick McCollum
Special to American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va. , Sept. 12, 2008 – Although Hurricane Ike is expected to lose power after hitting Texas tonight, National Guardsmen in four other states are preparing for the worst when it becomes a tropical storm later this weekend.

Guard members in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri have anticipated the problems associated with heavy rain and winds and will be ready to respond, state officials said.

Heavy rains of up to 15 inches are projected for the hardest-hit areas and flooding and tornadoes are anticipated.

“Rain is what we’re worried about,” said Pat Scully, spokesman for the Oklahoma National Guard. Much of the state is under a flood watch, he added, because forecasts indicate that a cold front from the north will join forces with the tropical storm.

“We’re confident that if we are called, we’ll have the personnel and equipment to handle the situation,” Scully said.

The Oklahoma governor has not declared a state of emergency, but more than 1,000 Guard members are standing by as a quick-reaction force, he said.

“We’ll be using our quick-reaction force and our follow-on force,” Scully said. “After that, we’ll have our on-station National Guard soldiers ready to respond, both Army and Air.” The state is now in a “planning mode,” but expects to respond to missions ranging from search and rescue to delivering relief supplies.

Scully said the state has more than 2,000 Guard members available for these missions. Several units from the state are deployed or preparing for deployment, including the 45th Brigade Combat Team, a force of about 2,600 soldiers, which is in Iraq; about 800 soldiers from the 45th Fires Brigade, which is training at Fort Hood, Texas, for an upcoming deployment; and 300 airmen from the 138th Fighter Wing in Tulsa, which deployed to Iraq earlier this week.

Flood watches are in effect for more than 50 counties in Arkansas.

“What Arkansas is looking at is the possibility of the after-effects of the hurricane, which could bring tornadoes into the state,” Army Capt. Chris Heathscott, spokesman for the Arkansas National Guard, said.

Despite the deployment of Arkansas’ 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team to Iraq, Heathscott said, the state has about 6,000 Guard members available.

The Arkansas Guard has responded to many floods and tornadoes this year, so Ike’s effects are nothing new. “2008 has been one of the heaviest years for natural disaster responses for our state,” Heathscott said. “It’s unfortunately becoming routine business for us.”

In Kansas, the Guard’s concern also is flooding “and making sure people are not driving through high water and in need of rescue,” said Sharon Watson, a Kansas Guard spokeswoman.

About 5,000 Guard troops are available at the request of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, and 2,000 are on alert, she said. Six hundred of those will be well prepared for the experience, since they are returning from hurricane relief duties in Louisiana.

With experience and clear objectives, Kansas will be well prepared, Watson said.

Experience will also benefit Missouri, where 2,000 Guard members, who are also returning from relief missions in Louisiana, can be called up if needed. The 8,000 Guard members in the state also have experience because of the Mississippi River’s flooding in June.

(Army Sgt. S. Patrick McCollum serves at the National Guard Bureau.)

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