By Spc. Chelsea BakerJanuary 18, 2018
ROCK HILL, S.C. - When South Carolina is impacted by weather events such as ice, rain or snow, one of the most deployed assets for the South Carolina National Guard are vehicle recovery teams (VRT). During the recent ice storm that impacted the state Jan. 17, 2018, one VRT, with a seasoned group of Soldiers was called to support once again.
The unit, from Field Maintenance Shop 5 in Rock Hill, has supported multiple weather events around the state, including the South Carolina flood of 2015, Hurricane Matthew and many ice storms, with years of experience working together as a team.
"All of us in the shop, except for one new Soldier, have served together over 10 years," said U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Colin Pressley, FMS 5 shop supervisor. "We've even deployed overseas together."
A VRT is comprised of eight Soldiers, who rotate in 12hour shifts. They are assigned a High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) and a M984 Wrecker vehicle. Their primary role is to support the Highway Patrol in keeping routes clear from any vehicles or trucks that become stuck, abandoned, or block access.
"We run two shifts with four Soldiers on each shift," said Pressley. "Two are assigned to a Humvee and the other two are assigned to the wrecker."
One of their most memorable calls was during an ice storm years ago, where a vehicle was abandoned on the middle of the interstate.
"The vehicle was just abandoned right in the middle of the road," said U.S. Army Sgt. David Watkins, service maintenance mechanic in FMS 5, "We had to move it with cars and trucks passing."
The teams are directed where to position along routes by the S.C. Highway Patrol. The locations can vary depending on the conditions.
For the recent winter storm that impacted York County and nearby Charlotte, the teams were requested to station along interstate 77 off an exit ramp close to Rock Hill.
"It's nice when we are able to be near a rest stop or gas station during the 12 hour shift," said Watkins, who has served in the National Guard for 15 years. "It gives us access to food, restrooms and a warm place to stay while we wait for any calls."
So far 2018 has been a year to remember. Charleston and along the coast were impacted by snow and ice Jan. 3, that lasted over a week, reaching up to eight inches of snow in some areas.
"We were not on call for the storm that hit the Low country, but we were on standby if more assistance was needed," said Watkins. "This was the first storm we've been called to support this year."
Military recovery trucks are equipped with several different towing mechanisms that are designed to tow and pull heavy vehicles. For assisting civilian vehicles, they use specialized tow straps and chains.
"When towing a civilian vehicle, our concern is to not cause further damage, so we have adapters for our trucks," said Watkins. "It's part of our 91B MOS (military occupational skill) as mechanics to work on vehicles, but we obtain the ASI (Army skill identifier) H8 for vehicle recovery."
He went on to say that many of the stuck vehicles or trucks that he and his team have encountered were on exits from interstates, where vehicles slid off the ramp and into the embankments. The majority of their calls occur during the night when the temperatures drop and roads freeze.
"My favorite thing about this job is the people," said Watkins. "You never know who you are going to encounter on a call and the people are always very appreciative."