RALEIGH, N.C. - With the impending winter storm, Jonas, set to impact the East Coast region, The North Carolina National Guard prepared their forces to respond alongside North Carolina Emergency Management in support to the state.
Meteorologists have been predicting Winter Storm Jonas to be one of the most epic storms to hit the East Coast in recent history. While much of the accumulated snowfall impacted the states further Northeast, North Carolina received its own wintry mix of snow, freezing rain, winds and damaging ice Jan. 21-24, 2016.
The winter conditions posed a significant threat to Citizens in North Carolina and in response the NCNG has been working with State Emergency Response partners, mobilizing 100 Guardsmen in Eastern, Central and Western North Carolina to support local authorities.
"Leading up to the event, we have meteorologist on staff who were monitoring the situation, keeping an eye on what's happening in the forecast for weather that's headed towards North Carolina," said Mike Daniska, assistant director for Planning and Homeland Security, North Carolina Emergency Management. "They communicated that [forecast] with our director for emergency management and senior staff and we began to have coordination meetings leading up to the activation of the State Emergency Operations Center."
The North Carolina Emergency Management shares its headquarters with The North Carolina National Guard at its Joint Force Headquarters home in Raleigh, having cemented a working relationship on a day to day basis.
"We began having meetings internally with emergency management Tuesday, and Wednesday morning we had a State Emergency Response Team meeting and conference call with our State Emergency partners- The North Carolina National Guard being a key part of the SER Team," Daniska said.
As centralized planning took place at JFHQ, the support roles and target areas across the state were being mapped out.
"We reached out to the counties around the state to begin to identify what resources might be needed in response to the event, feeding that up to our branches who communicate it to our staff here," Daniska said. "During the coordination meeting where the Guard is present, the Guard identifies the resources they have on-hand that they can supply within the time that it is needed."
Soldiers with the NCNG were alerted with short notice to prepare for state active duty, a tasking not unfamiliar to the NCNG who provide forces for domestic operations and emergencies at the call of the governor.
"We pretty much got out here in a hurry with all our stuff," said Capt. Michael Carpenter, team leader, West North Carolina State Emergency Branch. "That's why they call us minutemen I guess, because we can respond rather quickly."
The 100 mobilized Guardsmen were divided up into Winter Storm Catch Team Force Packages and Armory Support Packages, deployed and staged in Asheville, Goldsboro, Greensboro, Hickory, Marion, Mocksville, Mount Airy, Raleigh and Statesville.
"A big part of emergency management and emergency response is the recovery period," said Daniska. "Activities are ongoing."
Collectively the teams aided North Carolina Citizens and local authorities throughout the day and night, rescuing stranded motorist, doing health and wellness checks, shelter support, communications support and transport.
The brunt of the winter storm effected the Western region of the state, where significant snowfall and icy conditions caused hazards for citizens and added to local authorities becoming overwhelmed with recovery responses.
Soldiers with the NCNG, equipped with HMMWV (Humvees), shovels and other emergency equipment provided a needed assistance to the area.
"We knew there were going to be transportation issues and we rely very heavily on the National Guard to help us with those high clearance vehicles with all-wheel drive in order to get access to those remote areas," said Greg Atcheley, planning section chief, Regional Coordination Center West.
"We have four Armories that we are dispatching out of," said Carpenter. "We have teams at each one of those Armories, and they are spread out in Western North Carolina, able to respond to surrounding counties."
Carpenter, who is an engineer Soldier with the 130th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade in Charlotte, North Carolina, is familiar with state active duty, recently serving with fellow Guardsmen in flood response efforts to South Carolina in October, 2015.
"It's the best part about being in the Guard," said Carpenter. "Serving your hometown, serving locally, doing things humanitarian wise, whether it's home or abroad."
Those sentiments were shared by another Soldier, on his first SAD mission, serving as a member of one of the Winter Storm Catch Teams in Asheville.
"I was called Thursday morning and told to report to the Armory as soon as possible," said Sgt. Colin Kalescky, assigned to the 105th Military Police Battalion, Headquarters and Headquarters Company. "We got everything set up and started staging vehicles, making sure they were running well."
Kalescky and his partner, Spc. Kevin Thomas worked for hours on end, driving around the roads of Asheville, assisting residents and local authorities. The two Soldiers took every opportunity to help anyone in need.
"My Soldier and I went to breakfast over at IHOP, and while eating, two homeless individuals came in and they couldn't get over to the shelter because the bus system shut down," said Kalescky. "We offered to transport them but they did not feel comfortable riding in the Humvee, so we contacted the local police department to escort them to the shelter."
"I've had similar personal situations with family members in those incidents," said Kalescky. "They need help too, and you can't just look past them, so you offer them whatever help you can."
The opportunity to impact the lives of other local citizens did not take long to present itself, as the effects of the winter storm proved to be a challenge for many, effecting them in different ways.
"Around 6:30 this morning we got the call that an elderly man needed assistance with transport to a dialysis treatment," said Kalescky. "We immediately got into our vehicles and made our way to his home."
"I called 911 and evidently they got me in contact with the National Guard, who brought me here," said Charles Harbison an 86 year-old resident of Asheville, North Carolina.
Harbison and his wife were trapped in their homes, unable to leave due to the ice and snow. Harbison who has medical issues with his kidneys, could not miss his dialysis treatment at the Davita Kidney Care Center 20 miles away.
"Normally we have a van that picks us up, but they couldn't run in this kind of weather. Normally I ride the van there and my son picks me up," said Harbison.
Kalescky and Thomas picked Harbison up in their Humvee, carefully escorting the thankful Harbison to his treatment, which lasted four hours. The two Soldiers did safety checks on abandoned vehicles in the area while they waited for Harbison to be done.
After Harbison completed his treatment, the two Soldiers just as carefully as before, loaded him back into the Humvee and transported him home, as the snow began to fall again.
Guiding Harbison to his front door, through inches of snow, Kalescky led the life-experienced citizen to his wife who waited with at the screen door, noticing the amount of snow they had to go through to get there.
It wasn't a second thought for Kalescky to offer to shovel the steps and walking path for the elderly couple, as Thomas began to salt the ground and retrieve the mail at the curbside mailbox for the couple.
"I knew they helped people out, but I didn't know they helped people out on this level," said Harbison.
The Harbisons thanked the Soldiers continuously for their help and support.
Winter Storm Jonas proved to be a challenge for residents of North Carolina, but the Soldiers of the NCNG, local authorities, and emergency partners took on that challenge with them and were able to respond in dynamic ways.
"You go home and tell your family what you did and you are making a difference," said Carpenter. "It's very satisfying that we can assist the public like we do."