Army North supports disaster response efforts following Super Storm Sandy
November 7, 2012
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas - In one of the costliest and most devastating storms to strike the United States, Super Storm Sandy pummeled the country's Eastern seaboard Oct. 29, leaving behind it a swath of destruction, widespread power outages, flooding and gas shortages in her wake.
As the scope of the storm's devastation began to unfold, U.S. Army North, based in San Antonio, prepositioned coordinating elements in the most devastated areas to help support local, state and federal response efforts.
"It is our hope and our feeling that when they see a uniform that they'll get a sense of calm and confidence that someone is there who wants to help them out," said Lt. Col. Michael Brough, COIC team leader, Army North.
Army North, as the Joint Force Land Component Command of U.S. Northern Command, activated Joint Task Force -- Civil Support, headquartered at Fort Eustis, Va., to serve as the JFLCC Coordinating Element at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. The unit's mission is to coordinate for military units conducting missions in affected regions of the Eastern seaboard.
After tracking the storm for more than a week, Army North immediately deployed six of its 10 defense coordinating elements -- which are co-located with the Federal Emergency Management Agency's regional headquarters throughout the nation -- to Trenton, N.J.; Charleston, W.Va.; Philadelphia; Maynard, Mass.; Brooklyn and N.Y.C. to coordinate Department of Defense support to the FEMA and other response elements.
The defense coordinating elements, led by a defense coordinating officer, have the ability to coordinate requests for DoD to assist in search and rescue missions, medical evacuations, aerial damage assessments, distribution of food, water and blankets, establish temporary shelters, provide generators and pumps, provide communication equipment, transportation capabilities and many other functions to support disaster relief efforts.
While the ability to orchestrate such support efforts with numerous agencies and staffs from multiple locations around the world may seem difficult and daunting at times, leaders say it's what they've been training for. Coincidentally, Army North was in the process of concluding its participation in another homeland defense training exercise when it began pre-positioning personnel and resources in anticipation of actions they would need to support lead federal agencies, state and local officials.
"We learn how to do our job by conducting exercises," said Master Sgt. Natividad Ruiz, COIC noncommissioned officer. While the exercise dealt with threats to the United States from a foreign power, Army North prepared for threats from Mother Nature.
For those in the JFLCC Coordination Element, managing the large influx of DoD forces into New York, New Jersey and other affected states is an important task.
"Being here, we contribute in a different way," said Staff Sgt. Elsie Muniz, human resources noncommissioned officer, JCE. "We ensure people are accounted for and that we have the right amount of people to do the job. These relief operations are fully underway; we're reassuring the people that we're here to help them, and we're here to ensure this is getting done."
The Houston native said helping people is why she joined the Army.
"I love what I do; I love helping people," said Muniz. "As an NCO in the Army, there's nothing better."
From Army North's 24-hour Combined Operations and Integration Center, military planners, in conjunction with defense coordinating elements, monitored and assisted "unwatering" missions to clear NYC subways, tunnels, water treatment plants and other critical sites; debris-clearing missions; the establishment of gasoline and diesel fuel points for first responders and residents; aerial assessment missions; transportation of utility crews and other responders into the affected areas; evacuation of patients from flooded medical facilities or facilities that lost power; and many other lifesaving and life-sustaining missions.
"In the COIC, we provide situational awareness to the commander," said Javier Sosa, COIC operations specialist, Army North. "We indentify needs, track the evolving situation and coordinate to quickly get personnel, equipment and capabilities where they are needed most."
More than 450 personnel from Army North have deployed to locations in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., with more personnel on the way. Many units are supporting DoD efforts in northeast, including engineer companies, medical units, airlift supports units, logistics units, refueling, and contracting units.
"I've worked brigade deployments into theater, but this far more complex," said Master Sgt. Alexis Howard, enlisted strength manager, Army North. "There are active and Guard units from all over the country moving to multiple locations throughout the area of operations."
Some 7,400 National Guardsmen from across 14 states have provided sustained support to impacted regions. Guardsmen have rescued more than 2,000 people from flood zones, delivered 144,000 meals and provided cargo plane transportation for first responders to restore power and provide critical supplies.
While the east coast continues to make strides to return to normalcy and the overwhelming woes of Sandy continue to persist, JFLLC stands ready to provide assistance.
"The president has given us the mission to get the power restored and things back to a state of normalcy as soon as possible," said Col. Dick Francey, Army North's Chief of Staff. "I think it will be a while. It was a pretty significant strike they took."