By Staff Sgt. Leticia SamuelsDecember 19, 2018
WILKESBORO, N.C. - North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper activated 175 National Guard Soldiers for State Active Duty for Winter Storm Diego Dec 7.
Guard Soldiers rose to the call working under the direction of Emergency Management branches in the western and central parts of N.C. after Cooper declared all 100 N.C counties under a state of emergency.
Numerous hundreds of responders and about 3,000 N.C. Department of Transportation staff responded to the storm. Altogether, 2,400 trucks with snow plows applied more than 135,000 tons of salt to all major highways prior to the storm blanketing North Carolina.
"North Carolina geared up for a major winter storm and took all steps necessary to have the resources they needed in place to respond," Governor Cooper said during a press conference in the days leading up to the storm.
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning anticipating significant amounts of snow, sleet and ice with up to two feet of snow in western N.C. and over 10 inches of snow and freezing rain in central portions of the state.
The NCNG deployed 69 tactical vehicles like the M984A4 Recovery truck (Wreckers), the Light Medium Tactical Vehicle (LMTV) and Humvees to the affected areas of central and western N.C.
"The Western Branch of Emergency Management for the state of North Carolina requested nine All Hazard Response Teams (AHRT) from the North Carolina National Guard," said Lewczyk. "They were staged in Charlotte, North Wilkesboro, and Asheville."
Lewzcyk continued to explain that the AHRT is comprised of two HUMVEES and an LMTV in conjunction with wrecker crews that were operating on Interstate 40 and 26.
During natural disasters in N.C., NC Emergency Management (NCEM) leads all response efforts and ensures resources get to the counties that need them the most. NCEM also help determine what types of Guard Force Packages are required to assist state and local responders.
During winter storm Diego, NCEM built Hotspot Teams comprised of N.C. Department of Transportation plows and assistance vehicles, NC Highway Patrol Troopers and vehicles and NC Guard AHRTs including wreckers, LMTV and/or Humvees.
The Hotspot Teams were staged at known sections of Interstate or state highways where vehicles are guaranteed, during winter storms, to get stuck or slide into ditches.
In all, these teams rescued and recovered well over 100 vehicles of all shapes and sizes from large tractor-trailers to two-door sedans, ambulances, and fancy 4WD SUVs.
Guardsmen who were deployed throughout the state, completed over 50 missions to include: 46 citizens being rescued and transported to shelters or local hospitals, over 40 vehicle recoveries and stranded motorist assistance, dozens of health and welfare checks on residents, moving dialysis patients to treatment facilities, supplying residents with water, removing debris from roadways and directing traffic.
Soldiers also patrolled local areas searching for stranded motorists, led convoys of first responders to distant locations as a precautionary measure when trying to get to citizens stuck in their homes and marked cars that were abandoned and empty.
"We have had a few instances where EMS slid off into a ditch and we had to pull them out or they could only get to a certain point on the road," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Adam Huckabee, assigned to the 875th Engineer Company. "We had to assist them getting to a home in our vehicles so they could evaluate the situation of the homeowner."
Soldiers experienced many hours behind the wheels of these massive tactical vehicles during Annual Training and monthly Drill Training periods and it all contributed to them remaining proficient in utilizing their equipment in real-world response scenarios like Winter Storm Diego.
"Our personnel go through drivers training to include winter driving, off-road driving, self-recovery, loading and unloading and recovery with a wrecker," said Sgt. 1st Class Adam Mahaffey, the 875th Engineer Company Readiness noncommissioned officer. "We try to emphasize safety equipment, proper protective equipment and doing a proper preventative maintenance checks and Service] to make sure the vehicle is safe to drive."
Two days after Diego passed, citizens returned to normal routines while Guardsmen and EM continued to work together clearing roadways and restoring power to citizens.
"I am in awe of all the Soldiers that were out there performing these missions," said Lewczyk. "I'm honored to be apart of the Guard. After reading through the missions that they conducted while they were in these counties. It's truly amazing; the life-saving measures that they provided while they were out there."
Following the storm, Cooper advised citizens to remain safe and not to chance it driving in dangerous conditions but also thanked service members and all first responders.
"I am so thankful for the tireless efforts of our Guard members, troopers first responders, line workers and road crews who are helping dig us out from this storm," said Cooper.