Va. National Guard flood response a joint effort

Soldiers assigned to the Virginia National Guard’s Portsmouth-based 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry Regiment, 116th IBCT conduct reconnaissance patrols Oct. 4, 2015, in Gloucester, Va. During the recon the Soldiers monitored road conditions in low lying area and reported information back to to Gloucester Emergency Management personnel. They also worked with sheriff’s deputies to make site visits to inform citizens in low areas to make sure they were not in need of assistance. (Contributed Photo)

Soldiers assigned to the Virginia National Guard’s Portsmouth-based 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry Regiment, 116th IBCT conduct reconnaissance patrols Oct. 4, 2015, in Gloucester, Va. During the recon the Soldiers monitored road conditions in low lying area and reported information back to to Gloucester Emergency Management personnel. They also worked with sheriff’s deputies to make site visits to inform citizens in low areas to make sure they were not in need of assistance. (Contributed Photo)

SANDSTON, Va. — The Virginia National Guard staged more than 550 personnel for possible flood response at key locations across the commonwealth starting Oct. 2, 2015, and the operation had increased participation from Virginia Air National Guard and Virginia Defense Force units in addition to Virginia Army National Guard units. The state was spared the impact of Hurricane Joaquin, and Guard Soldiers only conducted a handful of missions assisting emergency officials with reconnaissance and high water transport. The Guard also provided the Virginia Department of Emergency Management with future operations planners from the Army Guard and VDF and imagery analysis from Army Guard aviators and the Air Guard.

“We made a conscious effort to bring in a greater mix of Airmen and VDF members, in addition to our Soldiers, to help provide the right mix of capabilities requested by VDEM,” explained Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia. “I am extremely proud of how well all of our forces responded, and we are going to build on lessons learned to make sure we are even better prepared to provide greater capabilities the next team severe weather hits.”

Governor Terry McAuliffe authorized state active duty for up to 800 personnel after declaring a state of emergency Sept. 30. The early declaration allowed for Guard personnel to move safely into their staging locations before the heavy rains began. Getting people and equipment into the right location in advance of the hazardous weather is critical the Guard’s ability to rapidly respond when needed, Williams said.

As the weather threat decreased through the weekend, the Guard returned personnel back to routine operations. By Sunday evening, only a small number remained on state active duty to assist localities through the threat of tidal flooding. By end of the day on Monday, all personnel were off state active duty and had returned to routine operations.

Soldiers from the Portsmouth-based 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team staged with Gloucester Emergency Management starting Oct. 2. They conducted route reconnaissance to monitor road conditions in low lying areas and reported back to emergency management officials. Flooding exceeded two and half feet in the lowest parts of the region, and they helped sheriff’s deputies make site visits to citizens to ensure they were safe and not in need of assistance.

“This is awesome for us,” said Capt. Kevin Hoffman, operations officer for 2nd Squadron, to the Military Times. “We get to help out the people that we live with and work with every day, and get to give back to the community.”

Also in the Hampton Roads area, Soldiers from the Hampton-based 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team staged in Lancaster where they transported emergency officials through high water to conduct damage assessments.

In the Southwest and Central Virginia areas, Soldiers from the Danville-based 429th Brigade Support Battalion also staged personnel and equipment in the Danville and Roanoke areas and Soldiers from the Gate City-based 1030th Transportation Battalion and 276th Engineer Battalion staged in Gate City and Cedar Bluff to provide support if needed. Soldiers also staged in Fredericksburg, Charlottesville, Staunton, Harrisonburg and Woodstock.

Army Guard units also used the state active duty as an opportunity to train personnel on safe chainsaw operations and licensed a number of Soldiers in order to be better prepared for future missions.

When it appeared that Hurricane Joaquin might make landfall on the Hampton Roads area, Airmen from the 203rd RED HORSE Squadron were staged at Camp Pendleton in Virginia Beach to provide heavy equipment engineer capability.

“We are a heavy equipment and construction unit,” said Lt. Col. Stock Dinsmore, commander of the 203rd Red Horse squadron, to the Military Times. “We have the assets to respond, whether it be earth movement or repair of structures after the storm.”

The Virginia Guard also provided assistance to VDEM to support planning and damage assessment.

Soldiers from the Fort Belvoir-based 29th Infantry Division and members of the Virginia Defense Force also provided assistance with operations planning at the VEOC.

“We have significant skills and experience in domestic operations and emergency response in the 29th ID and Virginia Defense,” Williams said. “This was a great opportunity to bring them in and put that experience to work assisting VDEM with planning for future operations.”

VDEM also requested assistance with imagery analysis for damage assessment, so aviators from the Chesterfield-based Detachment 1, Company A, 2nd Battalion, 151st Aviation Regiment flew a Lakota helicopter with advanced optics and enhanced avionics to capture high resolution video of locations designated as areas of interest by VDEM. From there, the raw imagery files were turned over to Airmen from the 192nd Intelligence Squadron to conduct the analysis.

Additional Soldiers, Airmen and members of the Virginia Defense Force were on duty at the Joint Operations Center in Sandston, Logistics Operation Center at Fort Pickett and Virginia Emergency Operations Center in Richmond to provide mission command, weather forecasting, administrative and sustainment support for units in the field.