By Col. Richard Goldenberg, New York National GuardSeptember 29, 2017
LATHAM, N.Y. - More than 600 New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen were on State Active Duty or federal orders as of Sept. 29, supporting response and recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands following Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
On Thursday, September 28, 60 Soldiers and four UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters from the 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation Regiment deployed to Puerto Rico from their flight facility in Ronkonkoma, N.Y. The unit was transported on three C-17s flown by the 105th Airlift Wing, based in Newburgh, N.Y.
The Army Guard helicopters will provide aerial support to the Puerto Rico National Guard. The aircraft are capable of moving personnel and supplies to key locations that may be inaccessible by ground transport.
They follow 100 Military Police Soldiers from the 105th MP Company from Buffalo who deployed to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands on September 25. The Guardsmen deployed from Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station to assist with security missions.
On September 22, an Air National Guard satellite communications system with seven Airmen from the 105th Airlift Wing deployed to St. Croix in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
Those units were alerted for deployment September 15, but were delayed due to the impact of Hurricane Maria.
The 109th Airlift Wing also contributed needed expertise to manage airflow and logistics, deploying six airfield management specialists to San Juan International Airport September 29. The wing has also been flying C-130 sorties, bringing supplies into the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
C-17s from the 105th Airlift Wing have been flying dozens of missions in the region, delivering equipment, personnel and supplies.
Also from Newburgh, 45 Airmen of the 105th Base Defense Force are prepared to deploy to the Virgin Islands to assist with security and operations at the commercial airport when flights become available.
And more New York Soldiers are ready to deploy.
New York has mobilized and staged 120 Military Police Soldiers from the 442nd Military Police Company from Jamaica, N.Y. and 125 engineers from the 152nd Engineer Company in Buffalo. These forces mobilized September 25-29 and are awaiting movement to Puerto Rico in early October.
Efforts in the Caribbean were matched by efforts back in New York to collect and ship donations to assist Puerto Rico.
At the direction of New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, the New York National Guard established collection sites at four National Guard armories September 24 for needed supplies in Puerto Rico. Items such as bottled water, flashlights, batteries, baby formula and diapers were collected by National Guard Soldiers for follow-on shipment by the state from these and ten other state sites.
Donations increased dramatically with New York's attention to the recovery in Puerto Rico, noted Army National Guard Maj. James Greene, a logistics supervisor who accompanied the governor during an assessment visit to St. Thomas on September 15.
"We've had some 2,000 cases of bottled water and nearly 1,500 boxes of baby wipes dropped off since yesterday," Greene said on September 28.
The National Guard will consolidate donations at Camp Smith and prepare them for shipment to Puerto Rico using logistics personnel from the New York Guard State Defense Force, Greene explained.
To manage the transport and warehousing of donations, the New York National Guard mobilized some 100 personnel, including a transportation platoon and members of the New York Guard State Defense Force. These troops will augment state resources to prepare donations for shipment to Puerto Rico.
The first shipment of relief supplies managed by the National Guard departs October 2.
Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have unique ties to New York, Cuomo said. Not only are they in the same region for planning and operations in the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the two also share cultural ties to New York.
Cuomo conducted assessment visits with both governors of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and promised resources and support, especially National Guard forces through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, or EMAC, authorizing states to request other National Guard forces.
"After seeing firsthand the unimaginable devastation in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, I am proud that New Yorkers are stepping up to the plate to support our brothers and sisters in need," Governor Cuomo said September 27.
New York military forces were called on quickly for the hurricane response.
The initial effort focused on rescues for those in most need. Members of the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing, based at Westhampton Beach on eastern Long Island, deployed 131 personnel, two HC-130 Search and Rescue airplanes and three HH-60 helicopters September 7 in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
The team deployed its helicopters and equipment on board two C-17s, again from the 105th Airlift Wing.
From a staging site in San Juan, Puerto Rico, they went into action providing rescue operations in the Virgin Islands and led initial efforts to assist with evacuations of U.S. citizens from St. Maarten.
The team repositioned to Florida after Irma made landfall there September 10, and was soon released back to New York, having evacuated more than 1,500 people from St. Maarten.
National Guard leaders put deployed members on orders for up to 30 days in order to provide sufficient resources available to the Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands National Guard. Troops may continue to rotate later in the fall to sustain the effort if necessary.