By Staff Sgt. Edward SiguenzaOctober 20, 2017
NAPA, Calif. -- While California Army National Guard Soldiers are responding to the Northern California wildfires, they have received an incredible outpouring of support from the local communities. From the point of view of many of the Guardsmen on the ground, there are not enough words to express thanks for the generosity received from local civilians.
When Guardsmen go out on missions, benevolence rolls in behind them. Restaurants cater lunches for free. Organizations provide dinner -- such as barbecued ribs and chicken -- on their dime. There is no Soldier here who is in danger of dehydration. There is an abundance of water, juice and sports drinks, courtesy of community volunteers. Chiropractors and masseuses have even volunteered their services to ease Guardsmen's aching bones and muscles after longing shifts.
"The community has been so supportive, we had to tell people to stop giving us stuff," said Maj. Andrew Hanson, executive officer, 185th Military Police Battalion. "We're so grateful to the community for their support, but we had to turn some things away. It was just too much."
No one has forgotten those in need: the evacuees, those directly hurt from the fires. Almost every day, Guardsmen are transporting non-perishable food, water and medical supplies to food centers and emergency sites. Other Guardsmen are guarding some of those locations, as well as monitoring traffic stops and entry points. Others, mostly military police, are doing whatever they can to assure law and order are maintained.
But volunteers are determined to help those who are helping those who need it most. Sindy Biederman, of American Canyon Troop Support, is one. She leads ACTS and has aided military troops for more than a decade, having three sons who have worn, or continue to wear, a service uniform.
"You guys do so much more for us. Much, much more," said Biederman, who, with just four others, hosted a barbecue for more than 200 Guardsmen. "So how do we repay you for all you've done? This is our way of saying thank you."
When fire season subsides, Biederman has lined up ACTS for its annual holiday care package drive. They'll send gifts to troops overseas, and this holiday they'll include 3-foot Christmas trees, she said.
Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties -- areas that absorbed the brunt of this firestorm -- have been receptive to California Guardsmen, Hanson explained. People wave at troops guarding entry points. On highways, passengers in vehicles take photos of troops in their Army trucks. Some civilians go out of their way to shake hands and strike up conversations with Guardsmen, thanking them for their service.
"It's been tremendous; it's unbelievable," said Lt. Col. Eric Sharyer, 185th commander. "Especially in Napa. The people, the sheriff's office, the community -- it's been unbelievable."
Sharyer recalled a woman who had lost her home in Santa Rosa, California.
"She came up and thanked me for my service," he said. "She thanked me. She just lost her home, but she still thanked me. I didn't know what to say."
Napa resident Michelle Marquez stressed her desire to support the Guardsmen comes simply from love, love for the sacrifices Soldiers do for the nation.
"I have so much appreciation for you guys," Marquez said after snapping a selfie with military policemen. "In times like this, when the chips are down, we're all here to help each other."
Marquez took her benevolence a little further by hugging almost every Soldier she greeted.
"Yes, you do!" replied Marquez, when told grown men in green Army uniforms don't need hugs. "All of you guys need to be hugged by your mother."
Hugging, feeding and caring.
To the communities of Northern California, the members of the California Army National Guard give you a tremendous, "Thank you for your service as well!"