A group of 24 Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers and four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters that deployed to North Carolina for Hurricane Florence relief operations returned to Wisconsin Sept. 21 after a successful mission.
The West Bend-based medevac aircraft and crew returned after completing seven missions and nearly 25 hours of flight in support of civil authorities in North Carolina.
Two aircraft and 12 crew completed a number of missions including moving 11 nurses from one emergency operations center to another and transporting a damage assessment team and waste facility repair personnel to areas of need. The crew also supported swift water rescue missions with a water rescue diver from another state and conducted wide area searches for stranded individuals from the air.
The remaining two aircraft and 12 crew sent to Maryland took advantage of the training opportunities the mission provided to increase their proficiency while simultaneously standing ready to assist, if needed. Those crews have also returned to Wisconsin.
One of the crews transported members of the North Carolina Rural Water Treatment team to a water treatment facility that had lost power and had sewage overflowing into the flooded rivers. The crews also worked closely with several civilian and government organizations involved in the response. One crew spent several hours flying a local county representative and a FEMA surveyor to conduct important damage assessment work.
“I think that was one thing that was unexpectedly rewarding was helping the citizens down there indirectly by assisting some of these other organizations that were down there trying to help,” said Capt. Robert Hofer, a Madison resident and the officer-in-charge of the mission.
Hofer said that the entire experience was a rewarding one for the crew and that it demonstrated the Wisconsin National Guard’s readiness and ability to step up in times of need. Those that went on the mission had very little notice to prepare their families and employers for their absence.
“It speaks volumes to everybody’s proficiency and their motivation and hard work and their character as individuals being willing to drop everything at a phone call’s notice and leave for an undetermined amount of time and have everything in order that they needed to,” he said. “It goes without saying, but when you take a step back and you look at it, it really is impressive.”
Meanwhile, a team of Wisconsin National Guard public affairs specialists including three Airmen and one Soldier deployed to South Carolina Sept. 23 to assist the South Carolina National Guard’s public affairs office as that state continues to deal with the fallout of Hurricane Florence.
“I’m tremendously proud of the dedication and professionalism our Guard members displayed as they responded to the Carolinas in response to Hurricane Florence,” Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general said. “Serving here at home in times of state or national emergency is one of the National Guard’s core missions, and our troops were once again ready to answer the call, when needed.”
More than 7,000 National Guard troops from across the nation were on duty to assist civil authorities at the peak of the storm.
Gov. Scott Walker authorized Wisconsin’s support after North Carolina requested the Black Hawk support via an Emergency Management Assistance Compact, or EMAC, request. Walker issued Executive Order 308 Sept. 14, which authorized Wisconsin’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, to call elements of the Wisconsin National Guard to state active duty to assist civil authorities in response to EMAC requests.
The Wisconsin National Guard stands ready to assist civil authorities with other requests for assistance, as needed, and Wisconsin Emergency Management continues to monitor the situation and review requests to determine if there are other areas in which Wisconsin can provide support.
The Wisconsin National Guard is no stranger to hurricane response or supporting other states and territories. In fall 2017, thousands of Wisconsin 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 where they provided humanitarian relief, security, and traffic control support to communities. Blackhawk medevac crews also deployed to the U.S. Virgin Islands 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 Guardsmen 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 medevac crew, including several Soldiers who participated in the North Carolina mission 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.
The Wisconsin National Guard simultaneously continues to maintain a high operational tempo with worldwide deployments in support of its federal mission as the primary combat reserve of the Army and Air Force. More than 350 Soldiers from the Milwaukee-based 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery deployed to the Middle East this summer and more than 25 Soldiers from the 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade’s Military Engagement Team deployed to the Middle East in March. Meanwhile, a team of Soldiers from the 112th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment deployed to U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in March to provide public affairs support there. Nearly 30 Soldiers from the West Bend-based 248th General Aviation Support Battalion recently returned from a deployment to the Middle East. Wisconsin Army National Guard aviators from Detachment 5, 641st Aviation returned from Afghanistan earlier this summer, and approximately 85 Soldiers with 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation returned from a nine-month deployment to the Middle East in January. Another 35 Soldiers from West Bend’s Company C, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation returned from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan in November.
Also in November, approximately 270 Airmen from the 115th Fighter Wing returned to Madison from a deployment to Korea, and more than 100 Airmen from the 128th Air Control Squadron at Volk Field returned from Southwest Asia. Approximately 70 Airmen from the 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee are in the midst of deployments worldwide, and other Airmen from the 128th deployed earlier in the fall as well.