ARLINGTON, Va. - As more than 9,100 Citizen-Soldiers and –Airmen had boots on the ground across 12 states in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, dual status commanders were appointed to oversee and coordinate military response operations in affected areas in New Jersey and New York.
Since the storm made landfall Monday, Guard members have been assisting local authorities with priority missions such as search and rescue operations, food and water distribution, debris removal and providing security and shelter for storm victims.
On Thursday, more West Virginia National Guard members were activated to help clean up snow dumped by the monster storm system.
Also Thursday, the first of 17 Air Force cargo planes hauling 69 repair vehicles and gear from Southern California Edison utility company for use in New Jersey and New York will arrive at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, N.Y. That cargo will be used to reconstruct the battered electrical grid in those hard-hit areas.
"It's fair to say that the state police and NYPD and the National Guard saved hundreds of lives (Tuesday)," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
In New York, “bucket brigades” of Guard members traipsed up 11 stories of hospital stairways to ferry fuel to rooftop generators; others carried patients down those same flights.
The storm killed 50 people in the United States and caused billions of dollars in damage in multiple states.
Widespread media reports featured Guard members helping out in flooded Hoboken, N.J.
“We saw the National Guard, and I sent my husband to tell them he had to get his pregnant wife out,” eight-months pregnant Robyn Pecarsky told The New York Times after Guard members rescued her and her two children, 5- and 8-years-old, in Hoboken, where Guard members rescued thousands of stranded residents Wednesday.
National Guard support to states, local first responders and the Federal Emergency Management Agency includes providing communications; shelter and engineering support; evacuation and security support; high-water vehicle support; high-water search and rescue; power generation; food distribution; debris removal, transportation and delivery of essential equipment and supplies.
National Guard Civil Support Teams are on stand-by for hazardous materials responses and providing Joint Incident Site Communications Capability. JISCC provides a communications bridge between first responders and other local, state and federal agencies.
The largest numbers of National Guard troops were out in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.
But Guard response operations have been winding down in Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts and Virginia, although some debris-removal missions continued along coastal Delaware and Maryland.
In Hoboken, hundreds of rescues by Guard members were reported throughout the day. People took to social media to express appreciation.
"My regards to WV National Guard for hiking in with MRE's and bottled water for myself and about 100 others stranded on I-68 near the state line for more than 16 hours,” a West Virginia resident posted in a public post on Facebook. “Thank you!"
In West Virginia, hit by feet of snow, Guard members were patrolling Interstate 68 for stranded motorists and assisting power providers with generators.
As has been increasingly the case in disasters, officials also used social media to communicate to residents. Hoboken officials told citizens the National Guard had arrived via Facebook and Twitter accounts.
“I just want to say thanks to the National Guard. You guys are awesome. We are so lucky to have you here,” a North Carolina resident posted to Facebook.
More than 87,000 National Guard members are prepared to fill any gaps in mission command, medical, communications, logistics, transportation, engineering, civil support, maintenance, security and aviation through Emergency Management Assistance Compacts that allow states to provide mutual aid if needed.
The governors of 16 states and the mayor of the District of Columbia had declared a state of emergency because of the storm: Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.
In New Jersey, one of the hardest-hit states, Army Maj. Gen. James Grant was appointed dual status commander.
Dual status commanders can command both federal and state National Guard forces. This special authority enables them to effectively integrate defense support operations and capabilities requested by governors.
Grant is chief of the New Jersey National Guard’s joint staff. Prior to his 30-year career as an officer in the New Jersey Guard, he was an enlisted Marine.
The National Guard Bureau is monitoring the situation closely and coordinating with state, federal and local partners to ensure a coordinated and efficient response, Guard officials said. The National Guard – the nation’s first military responder – supports the FEMA response and that of U.S. Northern Command, among other agencies.
Available National Guard resources include almost 140 rotary-winged aircraft to perform search and rescue, reconnaissance and personnel or cargo-carrying missions.
Critical equipment available from the National Guard also includes 75 zodiac boats, 3,125 high-water vehicles, 43 Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Units, 3,535 generators and 726 debris-clearance vehicles.
Contributing: Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy and Steve Marshall of the National Guard Bureau.