By Capt. Jesse ManzanoMay 13, 2019
HOMESTEAD, Fla. - As Floridians get ready for summer, the Florida National Guard is preparing for the start of a new hurricane season. In South Florida, Soldiers of the 50th Regional Support Group (RSG) manned the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at their Homestead headquarters as part of an annual, statewide hurricane exercise. Many of the 50th RSG's Soldiers who participated in the exercise were already veterans of several hurricane activations, but there were also a few first-timers who joined the training.
"Exercises that prepare us to support civilian authorities in case a storm threatens the state give us a unique opportunity to bring together Soldiers who have experience and have been working on these type of operations for their entire careers, and newer Soldiers who need to learn those skills," said Lt. Col. Javier Ortiz, the 50th RSG's Operations Officer, and a veteran of over eight state activations supporting hurricane operations. "We make sure the experienced Soldiers teach the new Soldiers how to apply critical thinking and problem-solving skills to the unique challenges presented by natural disasters and hurricane relief operations."
If a hurricane threatens Florida and Governor Ron DeSantis activates the National Guard, the 50th RSG's mission will be to coordinate the state's logistical response. This will include setting up logistical support and staging areas, managing supplies headed to points of distribution in impacted areas, and providing National Guard liaison officers to county's EOCs. Units from the 50th RSG will also establish and staff Joint Reception, Staging, Onward Movement, and Integration sites to coordinate out of state units coming to support the Florida Guard's efforts.
Since 2017, hundreds of 50th RSG Soldiers have served on state active duty for hurricane-related missions. Their experience and knowledge was critical in the Florida Guard's successful response in assisting impacted communities across the state after hurricane's Matthew, Irma and Michael.
Sgt. Maj. Michael Kutz, a veteran of 10 hurricane activations, agrees that these exercises improve the sharing of best practices and experiences. "It's important for our newest officers and NCOs who may not have been a part of previous hurricane-related missions, to be actively involved in their unit's planning and preparations prior to hurricane season, so that when the real-world mission happens, they are ready," Kutz said.
While Ortiz and Kutz were in a conference call with other units involved in this year's hurricane exercise, 2nd Lt. Daniel Perez and Capt. Jane Betancourt took turns manning the battle captain station at the 50th RSG EOC. Perez, who received his officer commission last spring, has not yet served on state active duty. "This is the first time I've participate in an exercise of this kind, and I have to admit, I was a little overwhelmed at times," Perez said. "I'm glad that I was given the opportunity to learn and train now. Next time we're all here, it won't be for an exercise and we'll be required to be proficient in what we do. I'm confident we won't let Florida down."