JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - During my nearly 40 years of military experience, I have learned the importance of being prepared.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon shares that belief, and he knew that to mount an effective response to the February blizzard our Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen had to be staged in armories across the state and ready to respond.
Our forces were assembled and mission-ready the night before the worst of the storm had hit the state.
During the storm and in the days following, the Missouri National Guard carried out missions in 42 counties across the state.
We transported almost 160 hospital staff and more than 80 emergency medical technicians and completed approximately 170 law enforcement assistance missions.
By activating early and being on the scene to meet the storm, our three task forces, made up of 600 Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen, saved countless lives and diverted what could have been a major disaster.
Since the storm, I've heard a number of reports of people and communities your Guardsmen aided.
Joint Task Force East, in St. Louis, brought food and aid to citizens in the rural part of Warren County. In Cooper County, the Guard assisted 12 stranded motorists and brought food to a family with 15 children. In Audrain County, the Guard transported nurses on house calls. In Pike County, the Guard assisted law enforcement and emergency personnel. In Osage County, the Guard assisted the ambulance district with a number of calls, including an overturned vehicle.
Joint Task Force Northwest, based in Kansas City, helped law enforcement assist 18 stranded motorists along arterial roads, with Interstate 70 closed. They cleared paths for the local electric company to restore power in Lafayette County.
In Springfield, Joint Task Force Southwest provided McDonald County with its Anderson armory as a base of operations. Soldiers in Laclede, Phelps and Greene counties transported critical hospital staff to and from hospitals in Lebanon. In Newton County, the crew of an ambulance that had been stopped in the snow was able to board a Guard Humvee to reach a patient who appeared to be suffering a heart attack. Other Guardsmen worked with their peers in the Highway Patrol to search for and assist stranded motorists along I-44. By the end of the emergency, the task force had covered 3,542 miles.
Perhaps the best story came from Johnson County.
Staff Sgt. William Stewart and Sgt. Matthew Bennett drove an expectant mother to the hospital. Imagine how jealous John Robert Reece's classmates will be when they find out that it was a heavy-duty Army truck rather than a stork that brought him into this world.
Everywhere they went, our Soldiers and Airmen were greeted with open arms. In Missouri, that kind of hospitality and support is common for our servicemembers.
Every opportunity we have to work alongside our colleagues in the State Emergency Management Agency, Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Missouri Department of Transportation and local law enforcement, fire departments and emergency response agencies is an opportunity to enhance our skills and become an even more valuable asset.
I deeply admire the courage, commitment and professionalism that all of these men and women show, not only in times of emergency but every day as they serve our state and communities.
Now that the storm is behind us, it is important that everyone realize that the National Guard hasn't gone away.
The emergency had passed, so while they may have taken off their uniforms and put back on their civilian clothes, the 11,500 Soldiers and Airmen of the Missouri National Guard remain: Locally and Globally. Always Ready, Always There.