By Eric Durr, New York State Division of Military and Naval AffairsJune 8, 2017
ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Over 390 New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen, members of the New York Naval Militia and New York Guard filled 405,461 sandbags between May 3 and June 4 as the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs responded to a directive from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to assist with Lake Ontario.
That's enough sandbags to cover all but two miles of the distance from Albany to midtown Manhattan (if you go through the Lincoln tunnel) if they were laid end-to-end.
Guardsmen also distributed 216,061 sandbags to property owners and local governments, while Guard Soldiers and Airmen, Naval Militia, and New York Guard members emplaced 57,950 sandbags.
The Naval Militia and New York Guard are New York's state military forces. The New York Naval Militia is composed of Navy and Marine Corps Reserve members who volunteer to do state active duty as well as serve in their federal reserve units. The New York Guard is a volunteer state defense force that augments the National Guard.
The bulk of those employed in the mission have been from the New York Army National Guard, with more than 200 Soldiers volunteering to pull sandbag duty during the past month.
Working out of central locations in eight counties along Lake Ontario's southern and eastern shores and the St. Lawrence River, members of Joint Task Force Ontario made an average of 11,721 sandbags per day during the first month of the mission.
Personnel on duty each day ranged from just under 200 to over 300 depending on mission requirements, according to Chief Master Sgt. Shawn Peno, chief enlisted advisor in the New York National Guard joint operations section.
Water levels in Lake Ontario are currently almost three feet higher than last year at this time due to heavy rain and snowfall, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.
The flooding has affected homes, businesses and entire communities and prompted the governor to declare a state of emergency on May 2.
"With waters on the Lake Ontario coastline rising to the highest levels in 20 years, we are remaining vigilant and will continue to do everything in our power to assist communities with flooding preparation and response measures," Cuomo said.
The state made available $7 million in emergency funds for property owners, $10 million to repair roads, and $5 million for businesses.
"We have various missions out here -- part of the group is filling sandbags and preparing them to be sent out into the field," said Air National Guard Lt. Col. Ken Kieliszek, a health services administrator assigned to the 107th Attack Wing and site commander during a mission at the Kendall Department of Public Works. "We have also had teams going out into the field and building break walls."
The work is strenuous, yet has been vital to limiting the amount of damage done by the flooding lake. It is a role that the Airmen of the 107th have fully embraced.
"There's no complaints and no issues," said Kieliszek. "They are proud to be here and proud to serve their country and New York State."
New York Army National Guard Soldiers also emplaced a high-tech water-dam system known as a Tiger Dam along Braddock Bay in the Town of Greece. The system uses large tubes filled with water to replace many sandbags and can be erected and filled in just over an hour.
Soldiers from the Army National Guard's 642nd Aviation Support Battalion, the 105th Military Police Company, the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and the 427th Forward Support Battalion have supported the mission along with members of the New York Air National Guard's 107th Attack Wing and 174th Attack Wing.
As of the beginning of June, the New York National Guard was planning to continue the mission until the beginning of August.