By Sgt. Juanita Philip and Sgt. 1st Class Jessica BarnettSeptember 21, 2017
ARLINGTON, Va. -- National Guard troops and members of federal agencies throughout the Caribbean region are ready to respond after Hurricane Maria made landfall yesterday in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm, with winds of 150 mph, weather officials said.
With Maria following a similar path as Hurricane Irma, the U.S. Virgin Islands National Guard is also prepared to respond with humanitarian assistance efforts after Maria came through St. Croix.
Aircraft and nonessential personnel are being relocated off the islands to posture for relief efforts once operations are able to resume. A number of personnel will remain behind to provide initial response. Two UH-60 Black Hawk medevac helicopters from the Kentucky Army National Guard and another four from the Tennessee Army National Guard operating out of St. Croix are sheltered in Puerto Rico.
About 430 Virgin Islands National Guardsmen are still called up and another 390 brought in from other states to help in first response. A select number of National Guardsmen on the ground via an Emergency Management Assistance Compact have been relocated to Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida, for the time being.
The U.S. Virgin Islands welcomed a Joint Incident Site Communication Capability team from the New York National Guard Sept. 19. The team will assist in communications support for first responders and other government agencies after the storm. U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp signed mutual orders of understandings with Puerto Rico and New York for Military Police support.
Puerto Rico has slightly more than 500 Guard members reporting for duty.
In preparation, the Puerto Rico National Guard supported the relocation of Virgin Islands residents. A barge was received in San Juan from New Jersey carrying a supply of water, cots and generators.
Overall, three Air National Guard C-130 Hercules transport aircraft are on standby at San Juan, Puerto Rico, for St. Thomas evacuation operations. A mobile kitchen trailer and 15 service members are set to deploy to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, post-landfall. Eleven pallets of food and water have also been arranged post landfall from Kentucky. St Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, is set to receive two Joint Incident Site Communications Capability systems; one each from the Maine National Guard and the New York National Guard.
More than 200 Guard members have been called from multiple states to provide hurricane relief efforts to the U.S. Virgin Islands once air operations commence.
(Sgt. 1st Class Jessica Barnett is with the 105th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment and reported from Arlington, Va.; Sgt. Juanita Philip is with the 51st Public Affairs Detachment and reported from the U.S. Virgin Islands.)