National Guard Chief Observes Troops in Action Amid Hurricane Damage, Wildfires
As Army and Air National Guard troops worked in the hardest-hit areas of Florida, so too did guardsmen work amid a raging fire in Oregon, as observed by a National Guard Bureau team that traveled to both crises Sept. 16-17.
National Guard Bureau Chief Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel and a team of guardsmen traveled to Key West and Marathon Key, Florida, Sept. 16 to observe troops at work in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. The following day, the team was in Brookings, Oregon, where the National Guard was working with local partners to assuage the effects of wildfires.
Florida’s Hurricane Damage
“In Florida, everybody was thankful, not just the first responders, but the people in the communities were happy and relieved to see our men and women in uniform there to make things better,” Lengyel said of the effort to bring services to the people of South Florida by 15,000 guard troops.
The bureau chief said it was a “great effort” of people -- guardsmen and partner organizations -- working together to bring Floridians food and comfort after the hurricane.
Army Lt. Gen. Timothy J. Kadavy, director of the Army National Guard, traveled with the team to Florida and Oregon, and he said other on-the-ground agencies and organizations are thankful for the guard.
“A [Federal Emergency Management Agency] coordinator in Key West told me FEMA could not do what they’re doing quickly without the support of the Army and Air National Guard setting up points of distribution and providing water, food and other key commodities to the citizens of South Florida,” he said.
Army Brig. General Mike A. Canzoneri, assistant adjutant general of the Florida National Guard, said the guard troops have been essential to Monroe County in the Florida Keys.
“They have been performing humanitarian assistance, law enforcement support, search and rescue [and] essentially trying to provide stability to the community until it can get back on its feet,” he said of guardsmen from 12 states.
Oregon’s Chetco Bar Fire
When Lengyel’s team left Florida, they flew to Brookings, Oregon, on the Pacific Ocean coast to observe Guard support as local firefighters fought the nearby Chetco Bar fire that comprised more than 188,000 acres in the state that day.
With about 419 guardsmen on the ground for the Chetco Bar fire, Guard support also extended to the wildfires in Washington state, Montana and California, he added.
“It’s what the guard does in terms of the war fight, homeland [and] partnership missions,” he noted of National Guard capabilities. “We see a little bit of all of that going on as we travel around.”
Even though the National Guard has responded to Hurricanes Irma in Florida and Harvey in Texas, and multiple Western wildfires, their spirits are good, Lengyel said. “It’s been fantastic for me to see that morale has been really remarkably high,” he added.
“This morning, talking to people here, the soldiers and airmen participating in the firefighting activities are happy to be here. They like the work [and] they like working with the civilian partners -- it’s just been a fantastic opportunity to see guardsmen do what they do,” Lengyel said.
And the National Guard has good relationships with local partners, he said.
“[In Oregon], I talked to U.S. Forestry and state forestry response folks who are professional firefighters,” Kadavy said. “And with our soldiers and airmen here, it enabled them to focus on their expertise, fighting the fires. So, it’s a team effort -- state, local and federal. This is the National Guard sweet spot. This is what we’re designed for and best meant to do.”
Most of the guardsmen responding to hurricanes and wildfires have experience deploying to war zones, and they have also supported national security objectives, Kadavy said.
“This is the other part of the National Guard ... the domestic response and support to our local authorities,” he noted. “And they are so proud of their ability, their training and the capabilities they got from learning about the war fight. And they’re applying it to help their local citizens, communities and friends and families. Morale is awesome.”
“Everything has been overwhelmingly positive and [the local partners] are thankful for the support. The thing about the National Guard is they know us because we live in their states, we’re from their communities, and so all of the [partner agencies] are familiar with our leaders, our guardsmen because we’ve been here before fighting fires in Oregon,” Kadavy said.
“We’re here to fight wars and to deploy when governors call us to fight disasters, whether it’s wildfires or hurricanes -- and the partnerships are evident too as I see the relationships we have with the interagencies, the first responders, the networks and the people in the communities,” Lengyel said. “It’s uniquely guard and I’m proud of it all.”
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)