By Staff Sgt. Tracci Dorgan
South Carolina National Guard
GAFFNEY, S.C. (2/13/14) - The mammoth winter storm that sliced through southern and Middle Atlantic states Wednesday was keeping about 3,000 National Guard members busy in nine states and the District of Columbia.
As daylight was coming to an end, forecasters predicted more precipitation in some areas, taking the form of either snow, sleet or a mix of both.
Soldiers and Airmen were assisting local authorities in Alabama, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, according to the National Guard Bureau and other officials.
On Wednesday night, as the snow fell on Delaware, Soldiers and Airmen were prepositioned in each of the three counties. The majority of missions involved transportation. "So far we have transported patients to the Veterans Administration Hospital for dialysis treatment, medical workers to the Christiana Hospital to start work shifts, and first responders to emergency operations centers," said Col. Dallas Wingate, the Delaware Guard's Director of Military Support.
In the District of Columbia, National Guard personnel were called up Wednesday by order of the Secretary of the Army.
Air Guard and active duty personnel from the 11th Wing at Joint Base Andrews, Md., were clearing snow to keep the D.C. Guard's 24/7 alert mission up and running throughout the storm, protecting the skies over the nation's capital with F-16 fighters standing by, a mission they have had since 9/11.
D.C. National Guard soldiers and airmen are conducting 24-hour operations at the D.C. National Guard Armory, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, in D.C., Davison Army Airfield, Va., and Joint Base Andrews. One of their jobs is to transport Metropolitan Police and Fire personnel to duty.
"Our hearts go out to those who have had their homes or property damaged in this storm," D.C. National Guard Commanding General Maj. Gen. Errol R. Schwartz said. "We are doing everything we can to help the city return to normal operations. The city has asked for us for help, and we are responding, just as we always have in every emergency throughout its history."
Guard personnel said that prepositioning resources helped officials deal with the effects of the ice and snow, which pummeled areas already hard hit by a storm late last month that paralyzed areas of Georgia.
"We accomplished our objective of getting our units into place before the snow started to fall, and now we are staged and ready to assist with response operations if we are needed," said. Col. James Zollar, director of joint operations for the Virginia National Guard.
Typical of the responses was in South Carolina, where Army National Guard wrecker teams moved out in full force to help during the winter storm that made roads dangerous around the Southeast.
Wrecker teams were stationed throughout the state to help wherever they were called Wednesday, when the storm began.
Staff Sgt. Richard Krause was one of more than 100 Soldiers put on state active duty to support one of 14 wrecker teams from the South Carolina Army National Guard assigned to assist the state Department of Public Safety.
Krause is a maintenance sergeant for the 124th Engineer Company in Saluda and was assigned to wrecker team 5. His team was comprised of other soldiers who live and work around the Columbia area, but were tasked with providing assistance in the Gaffney area.
The team was prepositioned in the Upstate off of I-85 to be ready for whatever was needed.
"We recovered an 18-wheeler that broke down, partially blocking a lane, on I-85," said Krause. "He was having transmission problems and couldn't drive anymore. He was stuck for more than three hours before we got the call to help him. We arrived and towed him to the next exit where he was able to park his truck safely and get out of the storm."
Krause said no other towing vehicles could reach him so it was important for a larger towing vehicle to get him clear of the road to keep all lanes clear on the highway. The South Carolina Army National Guard's 1089 A-1 wrecker weighs about 80,000 pounds, so it was able to safely drive on ice-covered roads.
The wrecker team, in addition to Krause, included Staff Sgt. Jeffery Shaw, Sgt. Chris Barefoot and Sgt. Chris Grant. They were able to move the 18-wheeler off the road within 30 minutes of arriving.
"The team and I were happy we were able use our skills to help our community," Krause said. "We were here before we were needed, staged off exit 90 at the Pilot gas station, ready to help. Because of our planning, we were able to respond quickly when we were needed."
Krause said he was humbled by the number of people who stopped by and expressed their gratitude to the wrecker team while they waited to respond to calls.
Throughout the day and into the night, they, along with other wrecker teams also responded to calls for assistance by stranded motorists and other 18-wheelers who were stuck in areas around Spartanburg, Inman, as well as Gaffney.
"It was a great experience to be able to help," said Krause. "People who passed us were happy for us just being there."
The situation was much the same in North Carolina, where a television news crew came across state National Guard members working to free a stuck civilian ambulance and fire truck. The Soldiers helped reinforce a crucial message in these types of emergencies: Don't travel on the roads unless you absolutely must.
Contributing: Steve Marshall of the National Guard Bureau