National Guard Troops Respond to Midwestern, Southern Tornadoes
By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill and Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Orrell
National Guard Bureau
ARLINGTON, Va., March 3, 2012 – More than 500 National Guard members are supporting civilian authorities in five states today after the second night this week of devastating tornadoes in the Midwest and the South.
More than 350 Indiana National Guard troops started providing search and rescue, debris removal, traffic control and presence patrols within hours of a tornado strike yesterday afternoon in the southern part of the state, according to National Guard Bureau officials and Army Maj. Shawn Gardner, state public affairs officer.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to the individuals in southern Indiana who have suffered this tragic loss,” Gardner said. “The Indiana National Guard stands ready to help and assist in whatever manner they may need to help them recover from this tragedy.”
At least 10 states were affected by tornadoes that struck Feb. 29 and yesterday. National Guard troops were on the ground this morning or being called out to support civilian authorities in Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri and West Virginia.
In Indiana, Gardner credited the rapid response to state leaders and strong relationships between the National Guard and civilian authorities long before up to 16 tornadoes hit yesterday, killing at least 13 people, injuring others and destroying the town of Maryville, home to 2,166 people.
“The Indiana Department of Homeland Security and the National Guard have a tight working relationship with great leadership who stand ready to respond to any natural or manmade disaster that may happen within the state of Indiana,” Gardner said.
Indiana Guard members also were helping Emergency Medical Service personnel evacuate patients and deliver critically needed medication and providing aviation support, among other missions, Guard Bureau officials reported.
More than 100 Guard members are on duty in Missouri, hit by tornadoes Feb. 29 and yesterday. The Missouri National Guard has focused its continued efforts in Taney County, around Branson in southwestern Missouri.
“We are here to assist the local police department [and] fire department with … debris removal, presence patrols, security to prevent looting and any other assistance that the city would need from us,” said Army Col. Gregory Mason, Missouri’s assistant adjutant general.
"We're glad to be able to help people, said Army Maj. Gen. Stephen Danner, Missouri’s adjutant general. “Our motto – as the governor says – is to help good people through bad times. With 11,600 airmen and soldiers, there's no skill set on the civilian side that you can't find somewhere in the Missouri National Guard. That makes it very valuable when we come in, because if there is a specific mission or specific skill set that is required, we can usually find someone in the Guard to bring in for that.”
The Army Guard’s 35th Engineer Brigade out of Fort Leonard Wood is overseeing the response effort in Missouri.
“We get the mission done,” Danner said. “When lives are at stake, the governor is insistent: He has a four-point plan where he talks about, ‘You've got to come in, and first thing is safety and security, rescue, and then recovery -- and then your after-action reports to improve what you've done.’ Governor Nixon is very insistent that we use a methodical process to ensure that our mission is successful every time. That's what has worked for the Guard.
“It's important that we let the citizens know we are here to assist the local law enforcement, city police and the county – who have done a tremendous job in ensuring the safety of the citizens here, but also the security of their valuables until they're able to retrieve them,” he added.
In Kentucky, about 80 Guard members are assisting local authorities with medical support, security and traffic control.
“The Guard being here means safety,” said Hodgenville, Ky., Mayor Terry L. Cruse, whose community was hit hard Feb. 29. “These people have lost a lot, and to have the security the soldiers provide, it’s one less thing they have to worry about."
In West Virginia, about 20 Guard members were assisting with debris removal after severe weather affected 10 counties Feb. 28, bringing heavy rains that caused flash-flooding.
After up to 16 tornadoes struck Alabama yesterday -- including a near-direct hit on a state prison -- the Alabama National Guard is mobilizing, Guard Bureau officials said today.
The Missouri National Guard’s Army Pfc. Collin Chenoweth said being in the National Guard gives him a chance to help – a chance that most citizens don’t have. “A lot of people want to help and can't,” he said. “Being in the Guard gives me the opportunity.”
(Kentucky and Missouri National Guard officials contributed to this report.)