Va. Guard assists with multi-agency storm cleanup effort

Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Powhatan-based 180th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command clear debris to open a blocked road Feb. 25, 2016, in Essex County, Virginia. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard)

Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Powhatan-based 180th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command clear debris to open a blocked road Feb. 25, 2016, in Essex County, Virginia. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard)

SANDSTON, Va. — More than 60 Virginia National Guard Soldiers serving on state active duty assisted with cleanup efforts Feb. 25, 2016, in areas of Virginia hardest hit by severe weather a day earlier. Soldiers with chain saws organized in debris reduction teams helped clear fallen trees and other debris in Essex, Westmoreland, Sussex, Patrick and Appomattox Counties. Virginia Army National Guard air crews flew two rotary wing aviation missions to transport emergency managers on an aerial visual assessment and also captured images for damage estimates.

“I am really pleased with how quickly and safely our personnel were able to get in position and be ready for duty on such short notice,” said Brig. Gen. Paul Griffin, director of the Virginia National Guard joint staff. “For most state active duty missions we have several days notice to prepare, but in this case we had less than 12 hours. We were able to get the critical response capabilities in place to provide local emergency responders with the additional assistance they needed with cleanup after the storm.”

In Essex County, Virginia Guard Soldiers assigned to the Petersburg-based 276th Engineer Battalion cleared a large tree that opened a roadway to allow personnel to access building for damage assessment and also cleared a quarter mile stretch of road to allow access to a home. Soldiers also assisted local Animal Control in freeing department vehicles mired in the mud, and they also participated in search missions of unaccounted for residents.

In Waverly, Virginia Guard Soldiers assigned to the Portsmouth-based 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team used chain saws to cut three large trees that blocked routes and caused significant damage. The Soldiers picked up tree limbs and other debris including a damaged shed and filled approximately three dump trucks.

In Richmond County, Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Hampton-based 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team are assisting local law enforcement with area security to help deter looting.

In Patrick County, Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Gate City-base 1030th Transportation Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group removed debris from residential properties and cleared several large trees blocking a road. The assisted in loading debris on pickup trucks and filled three construction dumpsters with debris.

In Appomattox County, Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team assisted local authorities with the inventory of donated supplies in addition to helping with debris cleanup and security at their emergency operations center. Soldiers from the 276th Engineer Battalion who previously were on duty in Essex County relocated to Appomattox County to assist with debris cleanup.

Griffin said Guard personnel are expected to stay on duty at least through Friday as emergency managers determine what assistance is still needed. Additional personnel were being brought on duty Thursday night to increase the debris reduction capabilities and be on standby for other possible missions.

“We will keep the personnel on duty as long as they are needed,” Griffin said.

An additional 50 Soldiers, Airmen and members of the Virginia Defense Force were on duty in Sandston, Staunton, Richmond and Fort Pickett to provide mission command, administrative and logistical support to Soldiers in the field.

The Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team provided the mission command headquarters for operations in the field and several 116th IBCT units along with Soldiers from the Petersburg-based 276th Engineer Battalion and Gate City-based 1030th Transportation Battalion provided Soldiers trained in chain saw operations for the debris reduction teams. Aviation crews from the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment and Chesterfield-based Detachment 1, Company A, 2nd Battalion, 151st Aviation Regiment flew the rotary wing aviation missions and Airmen from the 192nd Intelligence Squadron at Langley Air Force Base provided imagery analysis support.

Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency Feb. 24 in response to severe thunderstorms along with high winds and several reported tornadoes that impacted communities across the Commonwealth of Virginia. The declaration enabled public safety agencies including the Virginia National Guard, Virginia State Police, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and the Virginia Department of Transportation begin planning for appropriate resources needed for storm response and recovery.

The Virginia National Guard receives their missions through the Virginia Department of Emergency Management to assist the Virginia State Police, the Virginia Department of Transportation and other state and local emergency response organizations and is not able to respond to direct support requests from the public, Griffin said.

“If you need assistance because of the severe weather, please call 911 or your local dispatcher and let them know you need help and do not contact the Virginia National Guard directly,” he said. “They will determine what emergency services are best suited to assist you, and they will contact us if it appropriate for us to take action.”

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