HARLEYVILLE, S.C. - As Winter Storm Leon was gearing up to blast the southeastern portion of the United States with snow and ice, members of the South Carolina National Guard at the Joint Operations Center (JOC) in West Columbia, S.C., kept a watchful eye on weather maps and began preparations to address potential impacts around the state.
The South Carolina troops were among about 780 National Guard members who responded in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina after governors declared states of emergency.
A closer look at the South Carolina response:
By mid-day Tuesday, Gov. Nikki Haley declared a state of emergency and the JOC, working in support of the South Carolina Emergency Management Division (SCEMD), executed its first official request for support. The tasking was to launch four wrecker teams to be ready to assist the South Carolina Department of Public Safety.
Within hours, the individual wrecker teams were making final checks on equipment and getting prepared for around-the-clock operations. One wrecker team consists of eight Soldiers, one wrecker and two Humvees.
The teams moved to strategic locations throughout the state in Florence, North Charleston, Columbia and Orangeburg to support the South Carolina Highway Patrol in aiding motorists and keeping the roadways clear.
"Our teams were given radios by the highway patrol and were in direct communication with state troopers and monitored the situation throughout the night," said Maj. Andrew Newell, night battle captain of the JOC and officer in charge.
Staff Sgt. Christopher Gartner and other members of the South Carolina National Guard's 1118th Forward Support Company from Summerville were deployed with their equipment to the South Carolina State Transport Police weigh station on the eastbound side of I-26 at mile marker 73 near Harleyville.
Shortly after midnight as ice started accumulating, a call went out to help a family traveling in a small car that had skidded off the road, landing them in the median and unable to move.
"We dispatched a team to help the distressed family," said Gartner, the team's noncommissioned officer in charge. "We were able to quickly get their automobile back on the road safely and they continued on their way."
The 10-ton heavy-duty wrecker is designed to perform in extreme circumstances and is capable of maneuvering in any type of terrain, including water, snow or mud.
"After completing our initial recovery, we were asked by the highway patrol to help an 18-wheeled tractor-trailer that had overturned," said Gartner.
"At approximately 1:30 a.m., a tractor-trailer heading southbound on I-95 overturned and blocked all lanes of traffic near mile marker 68," said Sgt. Darek A. McMurry, a trooper with the South Carolina Highway Patrol. "A larger wrecker was needed to clear the roadway, so with our cooperation with the National Guard, we dispatched the team stationed at the I-26 scale house to assist with removing the wreckage."
McMurry said that in conjunction with the wrecking company on normal rotation, both were able to hook up and help drag the cab and trailer out of the roadway which helped to reopen the road.
For Sgt. Kevin Cobbs, a wrecker operator with the 1118th FSC who also works as a civilian truck driver, assisting with recovery operations hit close to home.
"When we arrived on the scene, the truck was laying completely on its side," said Cobbs. "As a truck driver myself, I was able to help one of my colleagues who was in distress and was able to get him off the road and to safety."
For Winter Storm Leon, emergency planners chose the junction of interstates I-95 and I-26 because of its location for quick and rapid access to both interstates.
"Having Guardsmen on-site and on-call is vital to us in doing our job during times of natural disaster or state emergency," said Cpl. Dean McAbee, a trooper with the South Carolina Highway Patrol.
"Our teams were geared up and ready to perform," Newell said. "Fortunately the night went with only a few incidents and our crews were able to help when and where they were needed."
Elsewhere in the hard-hit areas:
- Georgia Guard members assisted at least 500 stranded motorists and rescued children from stuck school buses.
- Louisiana Guard Soldiers and Airmen hauled more than 93 cubic yards of salt and 180 cubic yards of sand and spread more than 85,340 pounds of sand, as well as cleared more than 198 miles of roadways.
- In Georgia, a UH60 Blackhawk helicopter flew two missions Wednesday to transport 60 cases of MREs & 1,000 bottles of water.