Va. Guard Soldiers help save lives, deliver supplies in Wise County; additional forces to stage in Lee County

Wise County deputies and Virginia National Guard Soldiers assist a veteran in need of medical treatment Feb. 23, 2015, in Norton, Va (Photo courtesy Wise County Sheriff's Office)

Wise County deputies and Virginia National Guard Soldiers assist a veteran in need of medical treatment Feb. 23, 2015, in Norton, Va (Photo courtesy Wise County Sheriff’s Office)

WISE, Va. — Virginia National Guard Soldiers assisted the Wise County Sheriff’s Office with five medical and safety evacuations since coming on state active duty Feb. 22, 2015, with three of those evacuations saving the patients’ lives. Soldiers from the 1033rd Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion also continue to assist with delivering food, water and medicine to locations throughout the county.

“The Guard has really enhanced our abilities to get to people and places we couldn’t reach with the roads being in the shape they are in,” said Maj. Grant Kilgore, chief deputy for the Wise County Sheriff’s Office. “These are great guys, and everyone has worked really well together.”

The Virginia National Guard has also begun the alert process to bring 12 Soldiers on duty to provide support to Lee County, and they are expected to be ready for missions by Wednesday morning. An additional 12 Soldiers from the 1033rd with engineer equipment will join the 10 Soldiers already on duty in Wise County on Wednesday to help clear ice and snow berms created by plowing the primary roads. Soldiers will continue to assist with the delivery of food, water and other supplies as needed.

The Virginia National Guard Soldiers who were on standby in Highland County were released Tuesday afternoon.

According to 1033rd Engineer Company 1st Sergeant Billy Bartlett, Soldiers assisted sheriff’s deputies and local emergency medical services with two patients in immediate need of dialysis and another whose oxygen supply was running low. The Guard’s ability to transport through heavy snow helped save the patients’ lives, he said. In two occasions, Soldiers created field-expedient stretchers from blankets and tarps to transport patients to a medical evacuation point.

“We figured out the patient couldn’t stand up, so we tried to find whatever we could to keep him warm,” said Spc. Nicholas Turner, a heavy equipment operator from Wise, describing the evacuation where the patient was running low on oxygen. “It was great teamwork, and everyone stayed cool and calm.”

Turner said they then used a combination of a tarp and blanket to create a stretcher, and he estimated they carried the patient more than 150 yards through deep snow and ice.

“It is great that we get to provide service to our community,” said Pfc. Dakotah Wilson, a heavy equipment operator from Lebanon. “It warms the heart and reminds me why I joined the Guard.”

Bartlett estimated that Soldiers have run more than 40 resupply missions delivering food, water, medicine and kerosene to the towns of Appalachia, Pound, Norton, Wise, Big Stone Gap and Coeburn. They also delivered more than 25 pallets of water to resupply locations in the county.

Guard Soldiers conducted the resupply and evacuation missions in direct support of the Wise County Sheriff’s Office, with missions often being led by local law enforcement and the Soldiers providing mobility with their Humvees or light medium tactical vehicles.

Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency Feb. 16 and authorized up to 300 Virginia National Guard personnel could be brought on state active duty for possible response operations, and more than 125 personnel were staged and ready at locations across the commonwealth by that evening. The Soldiers, Airmen and members of the Virginia Defense Force were ready to support the Virginia State Police, the Virginia Department of Transportation and other state and local emergency response organizations.

McAuliffe also authorized aviators from the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment to deliver food, mail and medical supplies Feb. 16 to residents of Tangier Island. The 1.2 square mile island, located in the Chesapeake Bay, had been unable to receive routine seaport deliveries due to icy conditions.

Photos: Va. Guard Soldiers assist Wise County deputies with medical evacuation – Feb. 23, 2015

Photos: Va. Guard Soldiers continue to deliver supplies in Wise County – Feb. 24, 2015

News Release: Va. National Guard Soldiers on duty in Wise and Highland counties – Feb. 22, 2015

News Release: Va. National Guard staging personnel in Staunton, Gate City for possible snow response – Feb. 22, 2015

News Release: Governor McAuliffe Directs Virginia National Guard to Deliver Supplies to Iced-in Tangier Island – Feb. 20, 2015