As Irma Looms, Some Guard Members Hopscotch From Storm to Storm
ARLINGTON, Va. --
National Guard members across the United States returned home earlier this week for a quick recovery and then redeployed in support of the Caribbean areas hammered by Hurricane Harvey and the southeastern U.S. menaced by Hurricane Irma.
Irma, currently a Category 4 storm, is due to make landfall tomorrow morning in southern Florida, where massive evacuations have been underway for days. News reports early today reported that the hurricane had already passed over Cuba as it churned toward the Florida Keys.
The Illinois and North Carolina Air National Guard have deployed C-130s to the U.S. Virgin Islands, which had been pounded by Hurricane Harvey and is already affected by Irma. The aircraft are loaded with emergency equipment. Another C-130, provided by Illinois, is staged at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, awaiting orders when needed.
Preparing for Hurricane Irma
In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker yesterday authorized the adjutant general to call elements of the Wisconsin National Guard to state active duty to assist civil authorities in Florida, if needed, in response to Hurricane Irma.
The Kentucky National Guard is also assisting the U.S. Virgin Islands, having deployed two medevac Black Hawks Sept. 7, along with 20 Guard members assigned to the 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade. Figures from the National Guard Bureau showed Saturday that more than 625 Guard troops were assisting authorities in the Virgin Islands.
The Utah National Guard has provided two linguists and one Joint Incident Site Communications Capability team of six service members to Puerto Rico. The U.S. territory is also receiving aid from six airmen of the 269th Combat Communications Squadron, Ohio Air National Guard, delivering communications support for first responders and other government agencies.
NGB figures indicated that more than 375 members of the Army National Guard were at work in Puerto Rico.
Caribbean Relief Efforts
As of Sept. 4, the Rhode Island National Guard delivered meals ready to eat to the U.S. Virgin Islands, via a C-130 and were to return yesterday with a logistical squadron team of approximately 15 citizen-soldiers to provide a staging area for in- and out-bound military aircraft.
By tomorrow morning, Irma is predicted to make a direct land fall on southern Florida as a Category 4 storm, making it the state's strongest hurricane strike since Charley in 2004, according to the Weather Channel.
States in the affected path have each mobilized and or placed a number of Guard members on standby as their governors have declared a state of emergency for Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina within the contiguous United States.
"Just as our soldiers and airmen stayed strong and answered the call during the floods of 2015, Hurricane Matthew last year and the many other recent events when our state needed support, so now is the time we must be ready for Hurricane Irma," said Army Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston Jr., the adjutant general for South Carolina.
Preparations in Florida
Florida has activated 4,000 of its 7,000 Guard members providing on-going shelter and evacuation efforts. The remaining 3,000 members are on traditional Guard duty this weekend.
In preparation, Georgia National Guard has moved its C-130s to Memphis, Tennessee, in an effort to protect the aircraft and keep them readily deployable.
Florida is also receiving assistance from more than 100 members of the 253rd Transportation Company, New Jersey National Guard, bringing with them high-wheeled vehicles.
The 156th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, North Carolina National Guard, deployed to Key West, Florida, to assist in evacuation functions.
The Oregon Air National Guard yesterday sent 15 service members of the 125th Special Tactics Squadron to Florida.. They are to provide rescue via three Zodiac boats and help with air traffic control operations as needed.
One hundred Air Guard members of the 129th Rescue Wing arrived on the east coast of Florida. Many of the same California Guard members, like other states, just returned from Texas where they are credited with saving 113 people after Hurricane Harvey, according to news reports.
"We're always ready to answer that call," said Air Force Capt. Roderick Bersamina.
New York's Air National Guard was also deployed to help. For the second time in two weeks, airmen of the New York Air National Guard's 105th Airlift Wing and 106th Rescue Wing, deployed troops and equipment in support of a hurricane response Sept. 7.
Two C-17s assigned to the 105th Airlift Wing departed Gabreski Air National Guard Base at Westhampton Beach, New York, the home of the 106th Rescue Wing, on the afternoon of Sept. 7 carrying three HH-60 Pave Hawk rescue helicopters, three Zodiac inflatable rescue boats, and a team of maintainers, pararescuemen, combat rescue officers, logisticians, and other support staff, and headed for San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The wing also flew two HC-130 search-and-rescue aircraft, which are capable of refueling the HH-60s in flight and providing command-and-control capability, to Puerto Rico as well. The deployment was one component of the National Guard response to Hurricane Irma's impact on that island and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The 106th Rescue Wing committed a total of 131 airmen to the mission.
The 105th Airlift Wing, which is based at Stewart Air National Base outside Newburgh, New York, committed 12 airmen to the Caribbean mission.
Yesterday, members the 106th Rescue Wing team began conducting missions in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, basing out of San Juan, according to Air Force Capt. Michael O'Hagan, the wing’s public affairs officer.
The two wings did the same thing on Aug. 26, and headed for Fort Hood, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey flooded the Houston area.
(Eric Durr of the New York National Guard contributed to this article.)