Guardsmen come to the rescue

Guardsmen come to the rescue

About 7,675 citizen-soldiers and –airmen from 18 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico responded to the demands to tackle the flooding left by Irene — combining the three capabilities enhanced by the National Guard’s contribution to the joint state and federal support of civil authorities.

The National Guard Bureau’s new 24-hour, 365-day National Guard Coordination Center in Maryland boosted coordination and communication between the Army and Air National Guard and local, state and federal partners, Guard officials said.

The appointment of dual-status commanders to lead state National Guard and federal forces sped up response, and the deployment of strategically placed force packages ahead of the storm increased readiness, officials said.

The Coordination Center, dual-status commanders and pre-placed force packages are relatively new capabilities born from lessons learned from past natural and manmade disasters. What individual Guard members were doing on the ground and in the air today, contributing to the whole-of-government response, came from the almost 375-year-old tradition born when New England farmers set down their plows and picked up their muskets before Independence.

According to Coordination Center reports:

Guard members cleared debris and performed high-water search and rescue missions in Connecticut. They helped transportation officials control traffic in the District of Columbia. They handed out cots and supplies in Delaware. They flew helicopters from Alaska, Florida, Mississippi, New Mexico and Ohio to standby in the affected region for search and rescue, damage assessment, transportation or other missions.

Citizen-soldiers and –airmen provided command and control support in Maine, filled sandbags and assessed damage in Massachusetts, performed search and rescue and provided security and transportation in North Carolina, and provided shelter in New Jersey.

The National Guard provided maritime transportation to the islands of Vieques and Culebra in Puerto Rico, it supported communications in Rhode Island, and it provided engineers to local authorities in Virginia.

Throughout the Eastern Seaboard, Guard members helped neighbors hit by Irene.

About 101,000 Guard members were available in the affected region, the Department of Defense reported, and the Center worked with the states and other federal agencies to ensure the right numbers reached the right places at the right time.

“As Irene approached the United States, our National Guard Coordination Center was coordinating with the states, territories and the District of Columbia; the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Northern Command to ensure the most effective National Guard support to civil authorities and enable us to bring the full benefit of our size, skills, training, experience, command and communications infrastructure and legal flexibility to the whole-of-government response to the storm,” said Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley, the chief of the National Guard Bureau.

“Hurricane Irene demonstrated the vital importance of our new National Guard Coordination Center, which enables us to work seamlessly with our state and federal partners at the first warning of potential disaster.”

Among assets coordinated and monitored by the Center were force packages that allow Guard officials to strategically position assets to respond to any additional needs states may have.

One example: In Eastover, S.C., the Guard stood up an aerial force package of 17 aircraft — including UH-47 Chinooks, UH-60 Black Hawks, UH-72 Lakotas, OH-58 Kiowas and C-27 Spartans — with about 100 Guard members.

“Assembling and pre-staging ground and air force packages — drawn from Army and Air National Guard assets contributed by multiple states — in strategic locations out of harm’s way, but near potentially affected areas, meant the National Guard stood ready to respond faster than ever to civil authorities’ critical needs that might arise in the storm’s aftermath,” McKinley said.

Finally, the appointment of four dual-status commanders in support of relief efforts, reported by the Defense Department, marked the first time the dual commander concept had been so widely implemented in support of a natural disaster.

According to the Defense Department:

When agreed upon by the Secretary of Defense and the governor of an affected state, dual-status commanders can direct both federal active-duty forces and state National Guard forces in response to domestic incidents. The concept is intended to foster greater cooperation among federal and state assets during a disaster.

The nation’s governors led the creation of this new opportunity for collaboration.

Dual-status commanders ensure that state and federal military forces will work effectively together, when states request federal forces through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“This storm also demonstrated how dual-status combatant commanders who can direct both state National Guard and federal forces in response to domestic incidents increases collaboration, communication and coordination between federal and state assets, improves leadership, avoids duplication of effort and enhances the team response,” McKinley said.

In March 2011, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and the bipartisan 10-member Council of Governors adopted the “Joint Action Plan for Unity of Effort,” strengthening support to governors when they request military assistance for disaster response.

“Monitoring our response to Irene, I have been deeply proud of the sacrifices of our citizen-soldiers and -airmen, more than 7,000 of whom once again set aside their civilian lives and took on their military roles at a moment’s notice to help their neighbors and communities, with tens of thousands more at the ready if needed,” McKinley said.