ARLINGTON, Va. - Snowstorms, wildfires, flowing lava and continued deployments overseas all meant that 2014 was a busy year for National Guard members.
The year began with Guard members in states throughout the South, the Midwest and the East Coast responding to a number of winter storms that dumped several feet of snow in some areas and left others covered in ice. Guard members in the affected states worked to clear snow, rescue stranded motorists and distribute food, blankets and other supplies as needed.
"We've been overseas for so long, it's finally good to help our own," said Sgt. 1st Class Wendell McCollough, with the Indiana Army National Guard, who was among the roughly 350 Indiana Guard members called out in January to assist with the winter storm response that affected 29 counties of the Hoosier State. Guard members responded to multiple winter storms that hit various parts of the country through March.
Meanwhile, in West Virginia, Civil Support Teams and other Guard members responded to a chemical spill that leaked into the Elk River, contaminating drinking water and affecting more than 300,000 residents of the area. CST members tested and monitored water quality levels while other Guard members distributed bottled water to area residents. More than 500 Guard members from West Virginia and surrounding states responded to the incident.
January also saw a few other noteworthy milestones. Army Pfc. Erika Cotton and Army Pvt. Stephanie Kasten, both with the South Dakota Army National Guard's Battery A, 1st Battalion, 147th Field Artillery Regiment, became the first female Soldiers of the South Dakota Army Guard to serve in an artillery unit. Both Soldiers serve as Multiple Launch Rocket Systems crewmembers and were among many women who took on combat arms jobs previously closed to women as those restrictions were relaxed throughout the Department of Defense in 2014.
State active duty
Guard members responded to flooding in Florida, New Mexico, Minnesota and South Dakota, tornadoes throughout the South and Midwest and wildfires in Colorado, Idaho, Washington, California and Oregon.
In Hawaii, the National Guard deployed more than 80 Soldiers in October to Pahoa, a town of about 950 residents. Troops assisted with security, including the construction of a roadblock and other pressing safety issues when an eruption from the Kilauea Volcano disgorged lava.
The wildfire season proved especially active with Guard members dropping more than 4 million gallons of water and fire retardant throughout the affected states. In Washington state alone, more than 2.5 million gallons were dropped, triple what was dropped in the state in 2012.
The year also marked the first time in more than a decade that Washington National Guard members were activated to serve as part of ground crews fighting wildfires, rather than providing aerial support only, Washington Guard officials said. Wildfires in Washington burned more than 600,000 acres, the most fire the state has seen in recent history. Guard members in the states that battled wildfires assisted with firefighting efforts in roles ranging from aerial and ground firefighting efforts, health and wellness checks on those in affected areas and manning traffic control points as well as other missions.
Members of the Washington Guard were also called out in the months prior to fire season to assist first responders with the response to a landslide near Oso, Washington. The landslide, which happened when a portion of an unstable hillside collapsed, covered an approximately one square mile area engulfing numerous homes and rural neighborhoods. More than 850 Washington Guard members responded in March, conducting search and rescue, engineer and transportation operations.
In Missouri, National Guard members provided law enforcement support in the Ferguson area to help authorities following civil unrest in August and November/December. "At our height, more than 2,200 Soldiers and Airmen had reported for duty," said Maj. Gen. Steve Danner, the state adjutant general.
"One of my proudest moments as adjutant general was watching our Soldiers recover an American flag that had been burned by protesters and discarded as rubbish in the street. Our Soldiers moved out silently, recovered the flag, and brought it home so it could be disposed of properly and respectfully. To me, that moment summed up the Guard's mission: we defended their right to protest by burning the flag, but respectfully lived our values at the same time by treating the flag that represents so much to us with the dignity it deserves. It is sometimes a fine line to walk, but our military police did so with honor."
Three state partnerships added to program
National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program pairs National Guard elements with nations worldwide. During 2014, the SPP continued to grow by adding three new partnerships with the North Dakota National Guard becoming partners with the African countries Togo and Benin and the Nevada National Guard partnering with Tonga in the South Pacific.
"The North Dakota National Guard is an ideal partner for the countries of Togo and Benin because of the Guard's diverse and unique mission capabilities that allow for a robust military-to-military exchange," said Army Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, adjutant general of the North Dakota National Guard. "These exchanges are important to grow the knowledge base and experience levels of both the National Guard and the partnering countries as we learn from each other in a mutually beneficial way."
Helping battle Ebola and deploying around the world
Guard members also were part of ongoing operations and rotations in Kuwait, Afghanistan and other locations worldwide as part of the Global War on Terror. Afghanistan combat operations officially ended in December, but before then, members from both the Army and Air National Guard performed just about every mission set required in those locations. Guard members deployed elsewhere as well. Airmen of the Kentucky Air National Guard found themselves taking on a different sort of mission when called to Senegal and other areas in West Africa.
As part of Operation United Assistance, the international effort to battle the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa, the Airmen of the 123rd Contingency Response Group set up and operated a cargo processing hub that ensured the safe and efficient distribution of supplies to battle the disease that ravaged that area of the world.
"We know that this mission is not about us," said Lt. Col. Matthew Groves, commander of the Global Mobility Readiness Squadron of the 123rd CRG. "The estimates that we've seen are somewhere between 500,000 and a million lives that could potentially be lost in this epidemic and that's what we are going to stop, that's what we are going to be part of."
At home, the rest of the Guard stands ready for 2015.