WASHINGTON, Aug. 28, 2008 - Thousands of National Guard troops are mobilizing as Tropical Storm Gustav moves toward the Gulf Coast, where it is expected to make landfall within days as a Category 3 hurricane.
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami predicted today that Gustav likely will become a "powerful hurricane" and move into the southern part of the Gulf of Mexico on Aug. 31. It is expected to become a Category 2 hurricane as it passes between Jamaica and Cuba, then to build to the Category 3 level as it approaches the U.S. Gulf Coast.
A Category 3 hurricane packs sustained winds of 111 to 130 mph.
Depending on Gustav's path, forecasters said, it could make landfall anywhere between south Texas and the Florida panhandle.
U.S. Northern Command the conduit for requests for military assistance, is "anticipating and leaning forward" in preparation, command spokesman Mike Kucharek said.
Defense coordinating officers assigned in Federal Emergency Management Agency offices in Atlanta and in Denton, Texas, are serving as liaisons with state, local and other federal responders to ensure a quick response, Kucharek said.
All have "pre-scripted mission assignments" they are ready to carry out to ensure the response is well-coordinated and doesn't leave any gaps, he said. In addition, food, water, generators and other supplies and equipment are pre-positioned at military installations in the region, ready to be moved where needed.
Meanwhile, governors along the Gulf Coast who remember the devastation when Hurricane Katrina hit the region on Aug. 29, 2005, are mobilizing their National Guard troops in preparation.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal called about 3,000 Louisiana Army and Air National Guard members to active duty to support search-and-rescue operations, transport food, water and other logistic and provide security, said Maj. Michael Kazmierzak, state National Guard spokesman. Another 2,000 Guardsmen are on alert to support future mission requirements, if needed.
Guard security forces are preparing to deploy to New Orleans, where they would support the city's evacuation plan, or elsewhere as needed, Kazmierzak reported. In addition, search-and-rescue assets are preparing to deploy to potential impact areas.
Other Guard troops are preparing to support shelter security missions across the state and to support highway lane-reversal missions in coordination with the Louisiana State Police, Kazmierzak said. Guard liaisons, engineer assessment teams and satellite communications teams are preparing to report to coastal parish emergency operations centers.
Meanwhile, the Louisiana Guard is working closely with the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness to track the storm, Kazmierzak said. It also is coordinating with Emergency Management Assistance Compact states to confirm that their assets are available to support relief efforts, if needed.
In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry has authorized state active-duty orders for up to 5,000 Texas National Guard soldiers and airmen in support of the effort, Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Gonda Moncada, Texas Military Forces' public affairs deputy, reported. So far, 600 Guardsman have been activated.
Perry also requested 10 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and four OH-58 Kiowa helicopters for search-and-rescue missions and four C-130 Hercules aircraft for air evacuation.
Texas Task Force 1, a state search-and-rescue team, and Texas Guard members are reviewing swift-water rescue training procedures at Lake Decker in Austin, Texas, Moncada said. Meanwhile, the State Emergency Operations Center in Austin and Joint Emergency Operations Center at Camp Mabry are conducting twice-daily teleconferences with weather updates during each conference.
In Mississippi, composite teams of engineers and military police have been notified that they will be deployed to coastal areas as the storm approaches, said Tim Powell, Mississippi Guard public affairs officer. The teams will perform evacuations, search-and-rescue missions and support to civil authorities.
A search-and-rescue mission, if requested, will be a first for the Mississippi Guard since receiving its new UH-72A Lakota light utility helicopters, National Guard officials noted.
Another 500 soldiers will be stationed nearby as a rapid-response force - a strategy implemented after Hurricane Katrina. "Under our lessons learned, we've changed our plans and have now located more soldiers in coastal areas so they are already in place should they be needed," Powell said.
If needed, the soldiers will be ready to perform security patrols, clear roads and debris and operate distribution centers of water, ice and personal hygiene products. "We're planning and supporting for the worst, but hoping for the best," Powell said.
In Florida, 9,000 National Guard members are available for hurricane response, but none have yet been called to active duty, reported Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michelle Thomas from the state's National Guard public affairs office.
Five hundred Florida Guardsmen were activated for Tropical Storm Fay, with the last being released from active duty earlier this week, Thomas said.
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley met yesterday with Army Maj. Gen. A.C. Blalock, adjutant general of the Alabama National Guard, and other state agency leaders to discuss preparations.
About 3,000 Alabama Guardsmen have been put on alert of a possible mobilization, said Army Staff Sgt. Katrina Timmons from the state National Guard public affairs office. "We are ready, in the event we are needed," said Timmons. "We hope that's not necessary, but we are preparing, just in case."