29th ID Soldiers assist with West Va. Guard response to water contamination

29th ID PatchSANDSTON, Va. — Two Soldiers from the Fort Belvoir-based 29th Infantry Division’ s Domestic All-Hazards Response Team Coordination Cell deployed to Charleston, W.Va. Jan. 11, 2014, to assist the West Virginia National Guard response to a water contamination crisis that left thousands without water to drink, cook or even wash clothes.

“It was a great feeling to be able to deploy and help my neighbors out when they really needed us,” said Capt. Mitchell Bierl, a liaison officer from the 29th. “This was also was a great opportunity to see what we had done right and that our training and prior coordination enabled us to respond to this emergency quickly and effectively.”

West Virginia officials issued water restrictions beginning Jan. 9 after discovering that about 7,500 gallons of the chemical had leaked into the Elk River just above a drinking water plant. Residents in nine West Virginia counties were told to stop using their water for everything except flushing toilets. More than 500 members of the West Virginia National Guard have been on duty assisting with water testing and distribution of bottled water to residents.

Once they arrived, the 29th ID team established a relationship with the staff of the West Virginia Guard Joint Operations Center and began assessing what the state might need for their response effort. Bierl explained that the DCC has the ability to look at capabilities in National Guard units across the entire United States and can make recommendations to the impacted state on what resources might be of benefit to their situation.

After assessing the kind of outside support West Virginia might need to effectively respond to the situation, the team came up with a list of what they might need and what state could provide. Possible additional resources included transportation, water purification and public affairs.

The West Virginia Guard worked closely with FEMA throughout the entire operation and were able to handle the situation with organic assets, Bierl said. If additional capabilities had been necessary, the DCC could have helped make the coordination and facilitate bringing in the additional resources into the impacted state.

This was the first time the 29th had deployed anyone since they became the primary DART, but Bierl had previously deployed to New York in support of Hurricane Sandy response operations.

“It was a great experience working with the West Virginia National Guard,” Bierl said. “They offered us a warm welcome and proved to be a very tight knit and professional organization.”

The team returned to Fort Belvoir Jan. 14.

The National Guard Bureau developed the Domestic All-Hazards Response Team to provide Joint Army and Air National Guard support for significant all-hazards events in order to provide an Adjutant General with operational flexibility for augmenting their existing forces with modular and scalable military force packages. The 29th Infantry Division is comprised of Soldiers from Maryland and Virginia and on Oct. 1, 2013, was tasked by the National Guard Bureau to serve as the Domestic All Hazards Response Team for 2013 and 2014. The 29th ID is aligned with FEMA Regions 1 through 5 (states east of the Mississippi) to assist a state’s National Guard in their service to governors and citizens during incident response. The western United States is aligned with the 36th Infantry Division, headquartered in Austin, Texas.