ARLINGTON, Va. — More than 5,000 National Guardsmen from multiple states are positioned across southwest and central Florida to help communities devastated by Hurricane Ian.
Florida Guardsmen and others from Louisiana, New York and Tennessee — with more on the way from Georgia, Indiana, New Jersey, South Carolina and Virginia — are standing by to provide direct support in the wake of the catastrophic storm, said Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the chief of the National Guard Bureau.
“We’re hurt by the significant devastation we’re seeing and the impact on the lives of Florida citizens,” Hokanson said. “In the immediate aftermath, search and rescue will be the focus. Our concern is saving lives and getting our folks in there as quickly as possible to make a difference in that critical time to get people out of situations that may be potentially life-threatening to them.
“Because we’re in every community, we’re part of the first responders to assist in recovery immediately,” he said.
Ian made landfall on Florida’s southwest coast Wednesday afternoon as a Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph winds and record storm surges, flooding cities up and down the Gulf Coast. Now a tropical storm, there is still a danger of life-threatening storm surges and flooding through Friday along the northeast Florida, Georgia and South Carolina coasts.
Widespread, life-threatening flooding, with major to record river flooding, will continue Thursday across central Florida, with considerable flooding in northern Florida, southeastern Georgia, and eastern South Carolina expected through the end of the week.
Hokanson said the Guard was working closely with local authorities to ensure the right people and equipment were in the right places to maximize impact.
That equipment includes 16 helicopters, 1,640 high-wheeled vehicles, seven boats, 36 fuel tankers and generators to conduct search and rescue operations, clear roads and support law enforcement.
“This is primarily where our assets and high-water vehicles can really get in there and control those areas where people might be trapped or in danger to try to get them to safety as quickly as possible,” Hokanson said.
Helicopters will also be critical in search and rescue and supply transport, said Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Jarrod, the National Guard Bureau director of operations.
“We’ve also got aviation assets that they will use to get to those hard-to-reach places to ensure that, one, we want to save as many lives as possible, and then if people are OK, get supplies to them so that they can weather the storm and the aftermath of it,” Jarrod said.
With extensive damage to infrastructure and millions of residents without power, the Florida Guard’s 146th Expeditionary Signal Battalion provided emergency communication capabilities to civilians and first responders.
“We are preparing for Hurricane Ian by giving our Soldiers training on the Transportable Tactical Command Communications Ground Antenna Transmit and Receive devices,” Sgt. Justin Love, a satellite communication systems operator-maintainer with the 146th ESB, said Tuesday. “This training will allow us to support emergency operation centers when services are needed, such as phone service and internet.”
As part of an emergency management assistance compact, the Tennessee National Guard mobilized some 1,200 Guard members to Florida.
“We have a tremendous amount of experience responding to natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes and we are ready to help the citizens of Florida,” said Army Maj. Gen. Jeff Holmes, Tennessee’s adjutant general.
“It is why we wear the uniform, and once again, it’s the strength of the National Guard on display. We’re grateful for the families, employers, and communities for their continued ongoing support to our Guardsmen,” Holmes said.
The National Guard Bureau Joint Operations Center in Arlington, Virginia, was operating around the clock to help coordinate the Guard’s ongoing response. According to an NGB assessment, National Guard activations will continue over the next 48 hours due to current and forecast weather conditions.
“The National Guard will stay as long as we’re needed,” Hokanson said.