Guard readies as Gulf Coast braces for oil spill

By Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. SmithApril 30, 2010

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 30, 2010) -- At least three states along the Gulf of Mexico are preparing for a potential call for thousands of National Guard members as the nation ramps up its response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill today.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal sent letters to federal officials asking them to approve funding to activate up to 6,000 Guardmembers to assist in the response to the oil spill.

In two letters addressed to Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Janet Napolitano, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Jindal said the Guard "will provide security, medical capabilities, engineers and communication support in response to this threat."

"Currently, our Soldiers and Airmen are staging for and are engaged in the planning of the effort to evacuate and provide security and clean up for the coastal communities expected to be impacted by the oil spill," Jindal wrote. "They are engaged in the protection of vital infrastructure to include medical facilities, fuel distribution, interstate highways, water-ice distribution and power facilities, which are all vital to the recovery of coastal Louisiana."

Jindal went on to say that he "believe[s] these National Guard operations are necessary and appropriate to protect this region of our nation from a significant national event with potential catastrophic loss of natural resources."

Other Gulf Coast states, including Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas, reported they are in close contact with state and federal officials and are ready to respond with Guard personnel and equipment, if called out to assist in their communities.

"Right now, we are taking a look at the assets that are available and the possible missions that our Guard forces could receive, as far as dealing with an oil spill," said Army Maj. Christian Patterson, Mississippi Guard spokesman. "We are looking at everything and waiting to see what happens, to be ready to do whatever we are called on to do."

Patterson said the Mississippi Guard has a number of assets that can be used in such an emergency, including security forces to support police at checkpoints, aviation assets for aerial reconnaissance missions and civil engineers.

Army Maj. Cynthia Bachus, the state public affairs officer for the Alabama Guard, said her state is also monitoring the situation. "We have drill this weekend ... so if something does occur we will be here," she said.

Air Force Lt. Col. Ron Tittle, the state public affairs officer, said the Florida Guard is prepared to support the state's Division of Emergency Management.

Although it is hard to speculate on missions they might perform, if called out, Tittle said they typically look at how they respond to natural disasters, like hurricanes, with engineering assets and serving at points of distribution for those affected in their communities.

"It just depends," he said. "We just look at all the different possibilities and pull out our plans that we use to respond to other types of disasters and adapt a plan accordingly."

(Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith writes for the National Guard Bureau Public Affairs office)