Team Bliss pulls together in wake of 50-year low temps in El Paso
February 5, 2011
FORT BLISS, Texas -- In the aftermath of a mid-week storm which brought near-zero temperatures to a region which is otherwise known for its mild winters, Fort Bliss Soldiers and civilians put storm preparedness plans into action and continued to serve their community by standing up a series of relief centers across post, Feb. 4.
After weather which broke 50-year records reeked havoc on greater El Paso utility grids, according to Capt. Robert Becerra, a Soldier with Bliss' 93rd Military Police Battalion, approximately 600 Bliss families were without running water in their homes as of the afternoon of Feb. 4.
The installation was closed Feb. 2 and 3 due to inclement weather and while most Soldiers and civilians stayed home and monitored their households, Becerra, many other Bliss Directorate of Emergency Services team members, and others prepared the post for the storm.
"When the weather was forecasted, we knew we were going to have a lot of issues," said Becerra, who served as a relief coordination leader. "We shut down multiple gates, rerouted traffic, but along with that came the bursting pipes, and that's mostly what we're dealing with today."
The use of previously frozen water pipes without respect for how much pressure a partially-frozen pipe can handle typically results in ruptures. According to El Paso utility officials, as of the afternoon of Dec. 3, almost 200 waterlines were reported broken throughout the area, with many more homes damaged by their own ruptured pipes.
Jennifer Parker, the wife of Sgt. Christopher Parker, a Soldier from 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, said her South Main neighborhood home on post was one of them.
"The pipes froze [on Feb. 2,"] said Parker, the mother of two small children. "At first I tried to melt snow to get water to flush my toilets, but that didn't work so well." She said she then reached out to nearby friends for potable water, and endured her pipes bursting the following day.
"My husband and I have spent the rest of the time trying to clean up," said Parker, whose kids stayed with family friends as her and her husband dealt with the type of damage El Pasoans dealt with throughout the region. "I love my house, but I don't know if a lot of these houses are prepared for this kind of weather."
On the morning of Feb. 4, eight clean water (potable and non-potable) distributions points were stood up across the Bliss community and Bliss FMWR's Milam Athletic Center was converted to a full-scale relief shelter and operations center. Becerra said while Milam was the only active shelter for displaced families as of Feb. 4, other locations and their staffs were standing by and ready to be notified if multiple shelters were needed for military families.
In an effort carried out by more than 70 Soldiers from Alpha and Bravo Companies, 3rd Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, which also served as the post's Unit Reaction Force, basketballs gave way to bottled water as hundreds of cases of supplies arrived from many different suppliers such as Bliss' garrison command, Army and Air Force Exchange Service facilities on post, as well as private donations.
Capt. Carlos Munoz, company commander for Bravo Company, 3rd Bn., 41st Inf. Regt., 1st BCT, 1st AD "Bulldogs," led his Soldiers as they prepped Milam for displaced families. Though the extra duty may not have been what "Bulldog" Soldiers planned for Super Bowl weekend as they readied to man supply points throughout the community, Munoz made a point to credit his troops, and those from Alpha Company, some of which, who with assistance from their chains of command, were dealing with their own household issues, while also standing ready to assist others in their community.
He said overcoming adversity is just another day at the office for his troops.
"We're American Soldiers and we're put in these types of situations all the time," said Munoz. "It's 'duty first' and duty has called upon us to complete this mission."
Munoz also mentioned that while approximately 70 Soldiers were on-hand to assist relief operations over the weekend, 50 more "Bandit" Soldiers from 3rd Bn., 41st Inf. Regt.'s Bravo and Charlie Companies were on call should their efforts be needed.
Cher Poehlein, relocation readiness manager at Bliss ACS, was a member of the first shift of ACS employees set to man the Milam shelter around the clock throughout the weekend to serve the community. She said she hadn't seen a relief response to Feb. 4's scale since the post received displaced people from the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Though they were joined by many Soldiers and civilians ranging from Bliss Directorate of Emergency Services team members to Army Community Services employees, garrison command offices and beyond, Becerra said Friday's effort by the post's URF to help stand-up relief operations and help see them through throughout the weekend was critical to the mission at hand and were an example of the overall team effort which occurred after the Arctic temperatures of mid-week.
"It would be extremely difficult to do this on our own," said Becerra of the assistance DES (Directorate of Emergency Services) received. "The good thing about Fort Bliss is that when the call goes out, everyone answers. With all of the personnel and material we've put online in a short amount of time, it's been really impressive show of unity from Fort Bliss."