WEST BEND, Wis. The Wisconsin National Guard stands ready to assist civil authorities, if needed, with the response to Tropical Storm Florence.
As Florence battered the East Coast, four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters departed Wisconsin Friday en route to Maryland, where they will stage in a standby status in the event those resources are requested by civil authorities.
The West Bend, Wisconsin-based Black Hawks and approximately two dozen crew members are medevac helicopters with hoist and medical treatment capabilities.
The movement to Maryland represents a training opportunity while simultaneously pre-positioning forces in the region should authorities in affected states need additional assistance. The Wisconsin National Guard is part of a nationwide response, in which states communicate their requests for assistance and resources via Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) requests. The crews would mobilize to a state active duty status in the event of an approved EMAC request for assistance from another state.
More than 7,000 troops from the National Guard and the active component nationwide are standing by ready to assist, according to the Department of Defense. DoD is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pre-position helicopters, vehicles, and supplies in the region so the department is prepared to assist FEMA and other federal and state partners, as needed.
Sgt. Emily Cash, a flight operations specialist from Cross Plains, Wisconsin, said it's a rewarding experience to have the opportunity to serve in times of emergency, especially given the context of the past few weeks of flooding in Wisconsin, where her own town felt the impact. She also said that serving when people need it was one of the factors that motivated her to join the Guard in the first place.
"When things hit the fan and they need help, it's nice to know that we can go out there and help them and they can gain a greater appreciation for what our training is, what we do and that we're not just hanging out on drill weekends and going home," she said. "We're training for a mission every single time we come in here to be able to go and do this stuff if we get called up."
Warrant Officer 1 Steven Baumel, a Black Hawk pilot, from Horicon, Wisconsin, agreed.
"This is what we train for, so it's very exciting to actually go out and do our jobs, and I'm confident that we're going to do it well," he said. "We train regularly in different scenarios, different weather, different everything, so this is what we're here for in the National Guard. We're supposed to be ready for stuff like this. It's very exciting. Everyone is excited to get there and motivated."
The medevac crews bring a variety of resources and capabilities that civil authorities could employ in the response ranging from search and extraction capabilities using a hoist, to medical treatment.
"I think it's a great thing," Sgt. Jonathan Walsh, a flight medic said. "We're going out to help people who can't help themselves. They're in a pretty bad situation, so I think it's kind of an honor to be in the position that we're in. A lot of people would love to be in a position to do this. So it's an honor to do it."
Both Walsh and Cash recently returned from combat deployments to Afghanistan, and both were looking forward to the possibility of employing the skills and experience they built there to help their fellow Americans here at home.
Serving in times of emergency is one of the National Guard's core missions, and thousands of National Guard troops are on duty assisting civil authorities in states affected by Hurricane Florence, which has been downgraded to a tropical storm.
In fall 2017, thousands of National Guard troops mobilized in support of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Approximately 650 Soldiers from the 32nd "Red Arrow" Infantry Brigade Combat Team supported civil authorities in Florida last fall where they provided humanitarian relief, security, and traffic control support to communities. Black Hawk medevac crews also deployed to the U.S. Virgin Islands last fall to transport patients in need of medical care to health care facilities, and Airmen from the Wisconsin Air National Guard deployed to Puerto Rico to assist in re-establishing communications on the island and provide mass feeding capabilities to first responders and civilians.
The Wisconsin Guard has also been busy assisting civil authorities here in Wisconsin. Hundreds of Guard members assisted with sandbagging efforts after torrential rains soaked southern Wisconsin in late August and early September, and Soldiers responded on multiple occasions to flooding in summer 2017 in Monroe County and Burlington, Wisconsin.
A West Bend-based crew also recently pulled two stranded kayakers to safety from a marsh near Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and in the summer of 2016, they also rescued a member of the Bad River Reservation in need of kidney dialysis when extreme flooding cut off the reservation from land routes.