When S.C. governor Nikki Haley declared a state of emergency ahead of Hurricane Matthew's arrival, state agencies and Fort Jackson swung into action. South Carolina and Fort Jackson, in particular, weren't going to be caught unprepared for another hurricane -- they would be ready.
Fort Jackson began sheltering evacuees from the coastal regions Oct. 6, while also standing up the post's Emergency Operations Center. Soldiers, civilians and emergency response personnel prepared for the worst, which fortunately never came.
Among the preparations made were readying the Fire Department's tactical rescue equipment, ensuring Red Cross shelters throughout Columbia had enough supplies, and ensuring Basic Combat Training units were ready for any contingency.
Solomon Center opens to evacuees
The first evacuees arrived on post Oct. 6 around 4:30 p.m. Within 24 hours, Fort Jackson had processed more than 800 Sailors evacuated from Charleston, as well as more than 200 foreign students.
"We have a plan that has everything in it to help us be prepared for this kind of activity," said Dwight Peters, Fort Jackson's OPSEC officer.
"But we haven't really exercised it very well before. This is like our first shot at this ... we had a few hiccups, but now everything is going in line."
Employees with the post's Family Assistance Center logged arrivals, keeping track of individual family populations seeking shelter at Fort Jackson, he said.
"We've had one veteran come in," Peters said. "We had a spouse who's husband is deployed overseas, and she came up here with her children. We've had a few odds and ends ... but we take them in and take care of them."
"I've never seen anything like this," said Ray Domenech, Fort Jackson's new emergency manager.
"I've processed Soldiers for lots of stuff in the past, like deployment, pre-deployment and re-deployment, but never for anything like this."
"He's getting his feet wet," Peters said.
"Yeah, by processing (more than 1,000) people," answered Domenech. "If need be, we're going to support everyone that comes in. We'll be here until the last sailor shows up."
'I am an American Soldier'
For much of the week, the looming threat of Hurricane Matthew put Fort Jackson's scheduled graduation ceremony in question. When the day arrived, though, new Soldiers and their families were met by clear skies and cool air.
Betty Ward who traveled from New Jersey to watch her nephew graduate, said she would have attended regardless of the weather.
"We are Christians, we put faith in the Lord and knew our trip would be okay," she said. Her Family's
visit to South Carolina would be brief, though.
Matthew was expected to make landfall on the state sometime Friday.
"We want to be away from this," Ward said.
Mitchell Clark, of Alabama, said he was glad he booked a hotel room in advance of the storm, otherwise he might not have been able to find lodging.
His son graduated from Basic Combat Training last week.
"I knew with the hurricane, if I had waited until I got here to get a room it would of been a lot harder," he said. "There was a lot of places without gas when we got here and that made me nervous."
Clark said he's not worried about his son traveling in the hurricane for Advanced Individual Training.
"My son already told me that if anything happens with the weather that they will delay him traveling,
so I'm not worried about that," he said.
Kimberly Leach said that only her and two other members were able to come to graduation.
"The rest of the Family was supposed to come up today from Savannah, but my oldest daughter said
that she heard on the news that no one could come into South Carolina from the interstate," she said.
"We originally were going to go back home after family day but when we heard that decided to go get a hotel room."
"We just prayed that everything is going to be okay," said David Allen, who traveled from Mississippi
to see his daughter graduate.
Fort Jackson fired up
The Fort Jackson Fire Department began to prepare early for possible deployment of assets to assist
According to Chief Peter Hines, the Fire Department has "done a lot of stuff. We started a few days
ago when the evacuation order was given."
The fire prevention crew has been working with the installation by inspecting the barracks where
evacuees will be housed to determine how safe they were and to make sure they are the right facilities for those being housed there. The FD provided safety briefings to evacuees at the Solomon Center telling them how to call 911 in case of emergency. The Department also staged technical rescue equipment for use if the need arises.
The need arose as Fort Jackson fire and rescue personnel were sent to help recovery efforts in Edisto, South Carolina that was hit by storm surge, winds and rain brought by Hurricane Matthew as it slowly petered out along the lowcountry.
Basic training prepares for deluge
Hurricane Matthew could've made training difficult for those Soldiers in Training out in the field,
but preparations helped mitigate any potential problems.
Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Barnard, the senior enlisted leader of 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry
Regiment said his unit and the rest of the 165th Infantry Brigade had taken steps to prepare for any
"We were really plugged in with the brigade leadership," he said. At the brigade's last command and
staff meeting leadership discussed how to prepare
"We made sure we had everything covered," Barnard said.
His unit had enough Meals Ready to Eat, made sure vehicles were topped off with fuel in case of shortages, and topped off water buffaloes in case the water supply became unsafe to drink.
Precautions were taken for Soldiers out in the field as well. Even though the 1-34 wasn't in the field training, Barnard said troops can be brought in if the weather warranted it.
"In the event we had lightning, or had really severe conditions like if we had above 50 mph winds, maybe 60 mph winds and heavy rainfall we probably would have brought Soldiers back," Barnard said.
According to TRADOC regulation 360-6, a brigade commander has the authority to exempt a unit from a certain training event based on an emergency or severe weather.
The barracks for Foxtrot Company, 1-34, lost power forcing the unit to temporarily move across the street to 2nd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment barracks.
"We did that as a safety precaution," said Maj. D.J. Hurt,battalion executive officer. "They were in relocatable trailers, so they are not brick and mortar buildings. We coordinated with our sister battalion who gave them a company space.
"They took pretty much an overnight bag," Hurt said. "They didn't move everything. They moved the sensitive items -- weapons and everything. The arms room moved the weapons over so they would have accountability until the power came back up."
Soldiers were encouraged to call their Families before and after the storm arrived.
Soldiers with Families in the hurricane's path were identified prior to the storm's arrival and allowed to call home, Hurt said.
"On Sunday when the weather cleared up and the storm had passed us, we put out the word that it was mandatory for every Soldier to call home -- no matter where their Family was located," Barnard said. "Not only to check on their Family, if their Family was in Florida, the Bahamas, or the Dominican Republic, or even on the West Coast -- to call their Family and say, 'I'm here at Fort Jackson and I'm OK.'"