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NEWS | Sept. 9, 2017

As Irma looms, some Guard members hopscotch from storm to storm

By Sgt. 1st Class Jessica Barnett 105th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

ARLINGTON, Va. - National Guard members across the United States returned home earlier this week for a quick recovery and then redeployed in support of the Caribbean areas hammered by Hurricane Harvey and the southeastern U.S. menaced by Hurricane Irma.

Irma, as of Saturday morning a Category 5 hurricane with top winds of 160 mph, is due to make landfall Sunday in Florida, where massive evacuations have been underway for days. News reports early Saturday reported that the hurricane had already passed over Cuba as it churned toward the Florida Keys.

Illinois and the North Carolina National Guard have deployed C-130s to the U.S. Virgin Islands, which had been pounded by Hurricane Harvey and is already affected by Irma. The aircraft are loaded with emergency equipment. Another C-130, provided by Illinois, is staged at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, awaiting orders when needed.

And in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker on Friday authorized the adjutant general to call elements of the Wisconsin National Guard to state active duty to assist civil authorities in Florida, if needed, in response to Hurricane Irma.

The Kentucky National Guard is also assisting the U.S. Virgin Islands, having deployed two medevac Black Hawks on Thursday, along with 20 Guard members assigned to the 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade. Figures from the National Guard Bureau showed Saturday that more than 625 Guard troops were assisting authorities in the Virgin Islands.

Utah National Guard has provided two linguists and one Joint Incident Site Communications Capability team of six service members to Puerto Rico. The U.S. territory is also receiving aid from six Airmen of the 269th Combat Communications Squadron, Ohio Air National Guard, delivering communications support for first responders and other government agencies.

NGB figures indicated that more than 375 members of the Army National Guard were at work in Puerto Rico.

As of Monday, the Rhode Island National Guard delivered meals ready to eat (MREs) to the U.S. Virgin Islands, via a C-130 and were to return Friday with a Logistical Squadron team of approximately 15 Citizen-Soldiers to provide a staging area for in- and out-bound military aircraft.

By Sunday morning, Irma is predicted to make a direct land fall on South Florida as a Category 4 storm, making it the state's strongest hurricane strike since Charley in 2004, according to the Weather Channel.

States in the affected path have each mobilized and or placed a number of Guard members on standby as their governors have declared a state of emergency for Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina within the contiguous United States.

"Just as our Soldiers and Airmen stayed strong and answered the call during the floods of 2015, Hurricane Matthew last year and the many other recent events when our state needed support, so now is the time we must be ready for Hurricane Irma," said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston., Jr. the adjutant general for South Carolina.

Florida has activated 4,000 of its 7,000 Guard members providing on-going shelter and evacuation efforts. The remaining 3,000 members are on traditional Guard duty this weekend.

In preparation, Georgia National Guard has moved its C-130s to Memphis, Tennessee, in an effort to protect the aircraft and keep them readily deployable.

Florida is also receiving assitance from more than 100 members of the 253rd Transportation Company, New Jersey National Guard, bringing with them high-wheeled vehicles.

The 156th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, North Carolina National Guard, deployed to Key West to assist in evacuation functions.

The Oregon Air National Guard sent 15 service members of the 125th Special Tactics Squadron to Florida on Friday. They are to provide rescue via three Zodiac boats and help with air traffic control operations as needed.

One hundred Air Guard members of the 129th Rescue Wing arrived on the east coast of Florida. Many of the same California Guard members, like other states, just returned from Texas where they are credited with saving 113 people after Hurricane Harvey, according to the local CSB SF Bay Area.

"We're always ready to answer that call," said Air National Guard Capt. Roderick Bersamina.

New York's Air National Guard was also on the rescue merry-go-round.

For the second time in two weeks, Airmen of the New York Air National Guard's 105th Airlift Wing and 106th Rescue Wing, deployed troops and equipment in support of a hurricane response on Thursday.

Two C-17s assigned to the 105th Airlift Wing departed Gabreski Air National Guard Base at Westhampton Beach, New York, the home of the 106th Rescue Wing, on the afternoon of Sept. 7 carrying three HH-60 Pave Hawk rescue helicopters, three Zodiac inflatable rescue boats, and a team of maintainers, pararescuemen, combat rescue officers, logisticians, and other support staff, and headed for San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The wing also flew two HC-130 search and rescue aircraft, which are capable of refueling the HH-60s in flight and providing command and control capability, to Puerto Rico as well. The deployment was one component of the National Guard response to Hurricane Irma's impact on that island and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The 106th Rescue Wing committed a total of 131 Airmen to the mission.

The 105th Airlift Wing, which is based at Stewart Air National Base outside Newburgh, New York, committed 12 Airmen to the Caribbean mission.

On Friday, members the 106th Rescue Wing team began conducting missions in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, basing out of San Juan, according to Capt. Michael O'Hagan, the wing public affairs officer.

The two wings did the same thing on Aug. 26, and headed for Fort Hood, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey flooded the Houston area.

Contributing: Eric Durr of the New York National Guard