By Desiree BambaOctober 21, 2016
GEORGIA - Mother Nature showed her wrath as a vicious hurricane hit the southeast coast. Governor Nathan Deal issued a state of emergency on October 4 for 21 counties in preparation for Hurricane Matthew which hit coastal Georgia three days later. Georgia Guardsmen from Calhoun to Savannah mobilized to assist Georgia citizens and first responders in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. More than 2,000 Guardsmen and State Defense Force volunteers would ultimately serve from Savannah to Saint Marys along the Georgia Coast.
Prior to Hurricane Matthew making landfall, Georgia Army National Guardsmen from the Monroe-based 178th Military Police Company were activated and reached Savannah ahead of hurricane impact in order to provide hurricane evacuation contra-flow support to Georgia State Patrol in Chatham and Glenn County. In addition, Georgia DoD HMMWVs and cargo trucks were staged at Fort Stewart to provide critical mission support as requested by the Georgia Emergency Management & Homeland Security Agency.
"We have many Soldiers on duty to support our local law enforcement with security and evacuation efforts," said Brig. Gen. Tom Carden, Commanding General of the Georgia Army National Guard. "We also have staged units just outside the anticipated affected area to assist with debris removal, search and rescue and aerial assessments. Even though we have not had a hurricane of this magnitude for years, we practice for this continually, and I am confident we will be able to alleviate suffering and quickly get things back to normal after the storm passes."
On Oct. 7, Hurricane Matthew brought torrential rain, powerful winds and a storm surge to Georgia's coastal counties. At the direction of the Governor of Georgia, the Georgia National Guard activated additional personnel. In total, more than 2,000 service members of the Georgia Army and Air National Guardsmen as well as volunteers from the Georgia State Defense Force provided personnel, equipment and expertise.
"Our fellow Georgia citizens should know the Georgia Department of Defense stands ready and capable to provide disaster response support alongside local and state agencies," said Brig. Gen. Joe Jarrard, Adjutant General of Georgia. "We were able to respond quickly and effectively because of the investment in training and equipment we make to stay ready. The quick response is also indicative of the heart and soul of our Citizen-Soldiers who joined not only to fight our nation's wars, but to take care of their family and neighbors when disaster strikes."
In total, all five Brigades of the Georgia Army National Guard contributed personnel and resources. These include the Marietta-based, 201st Regional Support Group and 78th Aviation Troop Command; the Ellenwood-based 78th Troop Command; the Columbus-based 648th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade and the Macon-based 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. Additionally, the two Georgia Air National Guard wings, the 116th Air Control Wing and the 165th Airlift Wing, contributed personnel and resources.
The Georgia Army National Guardsmen conducted operations from Chatham County to McIntosh County. Operations included traffic control and rerouting from heavily affected areas, debris clearance and road reconnaissance. Georgia National Guard assets also staged for delivery of relief supplies in the affected areas. Engineers of the 810th Engineer Company staged in Swainsboro before departing for operations in Glynn County. Also moving to Glynn were Engineers of the Georgia Army National Guard's 177th Brigade Engineer Battalion and the 116th Air Control Wing to assist with debris clearance.
"The engineers have ideal equipment to assist with removing any debris," said Capt. Christina Spruill, Commander of the Company D, 148th Brigade Support Battalion, Georgia Army National Guard. "This is what we are trained to do and we are glad to be here. We are here for as long as the county requires us to help."
The Georgia Air National Guard also assisted local law enforcement with route clearing and debris removal with heavy equipment and chainsaws. The 224th Joint Communications Support Squadron and the 283rd Combat Communications Squadron provided communications support for the Georgia Army National Guard units and other first responders.
"We've been working with the Chatham County Police to clear public roads and make sure everything is passable for the residents to come back to their homes," said Capt. Joel Conrad, 116th Air Control Wing, Georgia National Guard. "It's very rewarding to be able to come into the community and help our fellow Georgians. We have gotten a lot of good feedback from the citizens and workers thanking us."
Members of the Georgia State Defense Force also assisted with Hurricane Matthew relief efforts. A team of GSDF volunteers was deployed to Macon-Bibb County to provide logistical support at four evacuation shelters. Working in 12 hour shifts, the members managed the intake and registration of evacuees, setup cots and temporary living facilities, moved equipment and supplies, and coordinated crowd and traffic control. In addition, GSDF personnel organized and delivered items donated by the American Red Cross. The evacuees came from as far north as Hilton Head Island, South Carolina and as far south as Fernandina Beach, Florida; however, the majority were from Savannah. Over 400 evacuees were housed in the various shelters.
"I am so proud of our team, from the senior leaders coordinating our response, to the Soldiers and Airmen on the streets augmenting our local civil authorities to alleviate suffering and ensure public safety," said Jarrard. "Our Guardsmen are trained to respond to disasters such as Hurricane Matthew. They want to help their fellow citizens during state emergencies and are well prepared to do so."