By Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, National Guard BureauAugust 12, 2010
ARLINGTON, Va. (Aug. 11, 2010) -- Now that the leak has been plugged and the oil has been stopped, three of the four states on duty are decreasing the number of National Guard members they have responding to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana still have more than 1,400 Guard members providing security, communications, aviation and administrative support to Operation Deepwater Horizon, but that number will be affected by the success of the recent static kill in the coming weeks, officials said.
In Florida, where Guardsmen are patrolling beaches for tar balls on all-terrain vehicles, about 70 Guard members remain on duty today. The high point was about 100. An additional 30 Guard members from other states are also working in the air coordination center at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.
"We are maintaining current operations of primarily ground reconnaissance as well as aviation support, while also doing our planning and coordination for the right-sizing of our force," said Air Force Lt. Col. Ron Tittle, the state public affairs officer. If they are needed, "we have forces that have been and will be ready to respond to the needs of our nation," Tittle said.
In Alabama, the claims action team ended its mission on July 30, said Army Lt. Col. Cynthia Bachus, the state public affairs officer. She said the state now has about 200 Guardsmen on duty, which is half the number that was on duty at the height of operations.
About 200 Alabama Guardsmen went door to door in Baldwin and Mobile counties telling people how to file claims with BP. Other missions included erecting barriers on Dauphin Island, transporting state and federal officials with aviation assets, and coordinating air support for surveillance of the slick and skimming operations at the incident command post in Mobile.
In Mississippi, Guard officials announced Aug. 3 that the number of Soldiers supporting the oil spill response would be reduced by 75 percent.
"We brought on a responsible amount of National Guardsmen when the task at hand required it," said Army Col. Lee Smithson, commander of Joint Task Force Vigilant Horizon, which oversees the Mississippi National Guard's response to the oil spill. "But this phased reduction matches the response needed."
On Aug. 1, nearly 230 National Guard Soldiers were activated, but only about 50 will remain on duty by Aug. 20, Smithson said.
This announcement of troop reductions in Mississippi comes nearly two weeks after the decision to activate 30 additional troops to boost the communications link on cleanup vessels, and it coincides with the successful capping of the well.
"With two weeks of no oil sighting, the time has come to right-size the force," Smithson said. "The light at the end of the tunnel is approaching."
After the leak was plugged Aug. 5, retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander, said the clean-up effort has a long way to go.
"There still is residual oil that is out there," he said. "It's not that visual. It's harder to find at sea, but we still know we have tar balls and mats that are showing up, ... so we have to be in a position to respond to that."
In Louisiana, the number of Guardsmen on duty is holding steady at 1,030, said Army Col. Mike Deville, the state public affairs officer.
"We are continuing the support by maintaining the current barrier projects that we have emplaced, and we continue to work with the parishes and local officials to assist with their needs," he said.