Virginia Guard completes Hurricane Sandy response operations

Virginia National Guard Soldiers transported seven adults and one child to safety at two locations on Cattail Road in the Mears, Va. area Oct. 30. (Photo by Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Green, Virginia National Guard)

SANDSTON, Va. — The Virginia National Guard returned to normal operations Nov. 1, 2012, and all personnel on state active duty supporting Hurricane Sandy recovery operations were released from duty and returned to their home stations. Guard personnel began assisting Virginia State Police and local emergency response organizations late in the day Oct. 29 at numerous locations across Virginia, and at the height of operations had approximately 670 personnel working across the commonwealth. During that time they transported 42 civilians to safety, conducted almost 60 reconnaissance patrols to assess damage and report on route trafficability and performed 10 debris reduction missions.

“Law enforcement personnel and the Virginia National Guard were the unsung heroes of the Hurricane Sandy response,” said Governor Bob McDonnell after meeting with Soldiers working on the Eastern Shore of Virginia and thanking them for their service working with emergency response organizations in the area.

Almost 600 Soldiers from the Virginia Army Guard’s 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry; 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment; 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment; 116th Brigade Special Troops Battalion and 429th Brigade Support Battalion from the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and 276th Engineer Battalion and 1030th Transportation Battalion of the 329th Region Support Group all provided personnel for the mission. More than 500 personnel were staged and ready on Saturday in the areas of Eastern Shore, Hampton Roads, the I-95 corridor from Richmond to Fredericksburg and into Northern Virginia, and additional personnel moved into place on Sunday and Monday along the I-81/I-66 corridor from Woodstock to Winchester to Leesburg. Army Guard personnel were also on duty providing sustainment support based out of Fort Pickett and mission command support at the Guard’s Joint Operations Center in Sandston and Emergency Support Function 16 at the Virginia Emergency Operations Center in Richmond.

About 60 members of the Virginia Defense Force were also on duty at key locations working as Incident Management Assistance Teams to assist mission commanders with information tracking in Web EOC and reporting back to the Virginia Guard JOC and augmenting the JOC and ESF 16 at the VEOC.

Approximately 10 Virginia Air Guard personnel worked in the JOC and ESF 16 and provided weather forecasting support at the JOC to help leaders make informed decisions about unit positions and safety measures.

Virginia Guard aviators from the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 91st Troop Command flew Governor Bob McDonnell, Secretary of Public Safety Marla Graff Decker and other cabinet members and senior state officials, as well as Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia, on an aerial assessment mission to the Eastern Shore area Oct. 31.

The Guard forces were organized into multi-function response packages equipped with medium tactical trucks, Humvees and Soldiers trained and equipped as chain saw teams that were capable of performing high water transport, debris reduction and reconnaissance patrols.

The staging locations were determined in coordination with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and Virginia State Police to make sure the Guard was readily available to help augment VPS efforts in those areas, explained Col. Jim Ring, Virginia National Guard director of joint operations.

“The response from the Virginia National Guard was exceptional and provided tremendous assistance to the citizens of Virginia,” Decker said. “From the personnel in the Joint Operations Center to the Soldiers working side by side with state and local first responders, I am very proud of how well the Guard performed. This doesn’t just happen on its own. It takes strong leadership from the very top, starting with the Adjutant General and his command staff, along with advance preparations, to give the personnel in the field a solid plan to execute. Maj. Gen. Long and his entire team deserve our thanks and praise.”

Decker received regular updates about the Guard’s efforts, and also visited the JOC, VEOC and Soldiers and VDF members working in the Eastern Shore area. “I could see that morale and spirits were good among the troops and everyone I encountered in the community expressed their appreciation for the presence of the Virginia National Guard,” she said. “The Soldiers, Airmen and VDF members all understand the importance of what they did, and they completed critical missions during a true natural disaster.”

Decker also said she was glad to see the Guard placed an importance emphasis on safety in such difficult conditions that resulted in no serious injuries to any members of the Guard.

Soldiers from Onancock-based Detachment 1, 1173rd Transportation Company, 1030th Transportation Battalion were among the busiest of all during the severe weather. Soldiers trudged through high water and cut trees to clear a path for two rescue missions that transported seven adults and one child to safety at two locations on Cattail Road in the Mears, Va. area Oct. 30. The rescue mission took place one day after another high water transport required carrying a citizen who was unable to walk more than 200 yards through chest-high water. The Soldiers had been on duty since Sunday and conducted numerous high water rescue missions to transport 34 citizens to shelters and transported six firefighters. (More info: http://vaguard.dodlive.mil/2012/10/30/2417/)

Additional accomplishments include the following:

– In Winchester, Virginia Guard Soldiers assisted Virginia State Police with clearing a large tree blocking access to a VSP fueling station and reported bridge flooding to local authorities.

– In Norfolk, Virginia Guard personnel provided high water transport to assist local firefighters transport one citizen to the hospital and two citizens to shelter, and they also conducted numerous reconnaissance patrols to assess route trafficability, damage assessment and offer assistance to motorists in need.

– In Fredericksburg, Virginia Guard personnel provided traffic control to assist Virginia State Police and local emergency service personnel at the site of an accident involving an overturned tractor trailer and also provided military rations to hungry citizens in a disabled vehicle waiting for the arrival of VSP assistance. Soldiers also cleared debris from an exit on I-95 and helped two motorists in need of assistance get back on the road.

– In Woodstock, Soldiers conducted a high water rescue to transport six citizens to a local shelter.

– In Portsmouth and Richmond, Virginia Guard personnel conducted reconnaissance patrols to assess route trafficability, conduct damage assessment and offer assistance to motorists in need.

“One of the good parts about the Guard is that we get to work with people who need help,” said Staff Sgt. Derek Ayers of Company G, 429th Brigade Support Battalion after assisting with a high water rescue that transported a citizen to a hospital in Norfolk. “Everyone has had a good, positive attitude and showed up ready to work, willing to do whatever it took and they’ve proven that day in and day out.”

Behind the scenes, personnel for the Virginia Guard joint staff provided a variety of different support functions to make sure personnel were paid, had the necessary supplies and the communications hardware to keep in touch across the state.

“The personnel office benefitted from a truly joint effort to process more than 2,100 documents necessary to pay the members of the Virginia Army and Air National Guard and Virginia Defense Force that supported the response,” said Col. Thom Morgan, director of manpower and personnel for the Virginia Guard. “Seven personnel staff from the Joint, Army, Air, and Virginia Defense Force Headquarters worked with the Department of Military Affairs Finance and Accounting staff and units in the field to rapidly verify pay and awards in a great display of teamwork.”

Morgan said that prior to and after the storm, Family Programs personnel coordinated with unit volunteer Family Readiness Group leaders to confirm that there were no emergency needs for Families of Guard members on duty. Family Assistance Coordinators contacted more than 100 Families to offer support.

Soldiers from the Sandston-based Company E, 2nd Battalion, 224 Aviation Regiment supported sustainment operations by delivering critical supplies to the units, sometimes driving in the storm, explained Col. Myles Altimus, director of sustainment for the Virginia Guard. Personnel from the Army Guard logistics directorate coordinated the sustainment effort from the Logistics Operations Center at Fort Pickett.

In order to keep everyone talking, the joint communications office issued out 15 Tactical Communication Packages, or TacPaks, along with 72 cell phones and 18 Virginia Statewide Agencies Radio System, or STARS, radios. According to Chief Warrant Officer 4 Chris Johnson, it was the first time the STARS radio system had been used during state active duty.

“All personnel were able to communicate and talk directly to each other, as well as to Virginia State Police using the STARS radios,” Johnson said. “This was a great improvement over the failure-prone hub-and-spoke communications model.”

Johnson also had strong praise for the VDF IMATs. “They were particularly effective this mission,” he said. “I believe they’ve found their stride and fill an important niche in the our response process.”