Virginia Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team departs for South Carolina

Virginia National Guard aviators andChesterfield County Fire and Emergency Medical Services Scuba Rescue Team member conduct final pre-mission checks Sept. 22, 2018, in Chesterfield County, Virginia. before departing for South Carolina. (U.S. National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)

RICHMOND, Va. — A Virginia National Guard aviation crew of four Soldiers and a team of three Chesterfield County Fire and Emergency Medical Services Scuba Rescue Team members departed Sept. 22, 2018, from Chesterfield County, Virginia, to support the South Carolina National Guard with recovery operations after Hurricane Florence caused serious flooding across the state. The VNG aviators and Chesterfield rescue technicians form the Virginia Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team to provide rotary wing aviation rescue hoist capabilities that can conduct aerial rescue evacuation in situations where there is potential loss of life, limb or eyesight or significant property damage.

“The HART has been on standby since Hurricane Florence threatened the East Coast so they could rapidly respond if needed,” explained Brig. Gen. James W. Ring, Virginia National Guard Director of the Joint Staff. “Once we received the request from the South Carolina National Guard, they were quickly able to conduct the final preparations and depart on short notice. This is a great partnership between the Virginia National Guard and Chesterfield County Fire and Emergency Medical Service, and the personnel train together frequently to ensure a high state of readiness.”

Requests for assistance from other states are processed through the Virginia Department of Emergency Management as part of a national system that allows states to share resources to fill capability gaps during times of need. The HART is expected to remain in South Carolina until Sept. 26, Ring said.

The HART deployed to Texas in September 2017 to assist the Texas National Guard with response to Hurricane Harvey.

The Virginia National Guard staged more than 1,500 personnel Sept. 12, 2018, at key locations across the commonwealth to support local and state emergency management officials with possible response to Hurricane Florence, but most were not needed when the storm turned further south. When Governor Ralph Northam authorized Virginia’s resources could be redirected to North Carolina, the VNG sent approximately 40 Soldiers and 20 light medium tactical vehicles to support with recovery efforts where the hurricane caused widespread flooding. Soldiers assigned to the Virginia Beach-based 1173rd Transportation Company, 529th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group used their 5-ton tactical trucks to transport supplies for shelter operations and first responders conducting health and welfare checked in flooded neighborhoods.

“We are incredibly fortunate that Hurricane Florence seems to have missed Virginia, so now we will turn our attention to supporting our neighbors to the south,” said Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia. “I am incredibly proud of the great team effort that enabled us to have personnel and equipment ready to respond here in Virginia, and we welcome the opportunity to lend a hand in North Carolina. We know they would do the same for us if we needed the help.”

During domestic operations, the VNG receives missions through the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and responds as part of a multi-agency team. In advance of the hurricane, the VNG received nearly 80 mission requests including liaison officer, staging locations, high water transportation, interoperable communications, rotary wing search and rescue, debris reduction and requests for assistance with stage-managed shelters.

While most of Virginia was spared the impacts of Hurricane Florence, VNG personnel provided assistance in several localities that did see severe weather. Soldiers cleared roadways and transported first responders in Independence, helped recover a man trapped in a vehicle and cleared debris from roadways in Floyd, provided staging for FEMA search and rescue teams in Pulaski and South Boston and helped rescue a dog from raising flood waters while conducting damage assessments in Grayson County.

The Virginia Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team departs for South Carolina Sept. 22, 2018, from Chesterfield County, Virginia. (U.S. National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)

More about the VNG’s response to Hurricane Florence:

VNG supports multi-state, multi-agency response to Hurricane Florence

Photos and raw video: 1173rd Soldiers drive through high water to deliver supplies in N.C.

Photos and raw video: Virginia National Guard supports hurricane response in N.C.

More about joint training between VNG and Chesterfield Fire EMS:

Va. National Guard helicopters support Hurricane Harvey recovery – Sept. 7, 2017

Photos: Aviators, first responders train on rescue hoist during Vigilant Guard – May 10, 2018

Photos: Aviators, first responders demonstrate rescue hoist capabilities – April 14, 2018

Va. Helicopter Advanced Rescue Team trains in Pulaski County – Aug. 13, 2016