By First Sgt. Lek MateoAugust 21, 2007
McALLEN, Texas (Army News Service, Aug. 22, 2007) - Strings of military vehicles and commercial buses snaked their way from all points of Texas toward the Rio Grande Valley yesterday in preparation for the possible evacuation of residents along the south Texas and Mexico coastlines that may be affected by Hurricane Dean.
As of 8 a.m. (EDT) today, according to the National Weather Service, Hurricane DeanAca,!a,,cs maximum sustained winds are 90 mph and it is strengthening over the Bay of Campeche, moving north, northwest at about 20 mph. It is expected to make landfall later today along the Gulf Coast of Mexico. Dean could produce up to 20 inches of rainfall that may Aca,!A"cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslidesAca,!A? over parts of central and southern Mexico.
More than 4,700 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen in such fields as aviation, health, communications, transportation and security are joining local, state and federal emergency responders.
Five hundred high profile, all-terrain vehicles and 50 fixed and rotary winged aircraft have been pre-staged at several key locations throughout the state. Approximately 700 commercial and 400 public school buses driven by contract and volunteer drivers were also committed to help with the evacuation of an estimated 42,000 residents. And military personnel have established four refueling points and rest areas along the primary evacuation routes.
Col. John F. Nichols of the Texas Air National Guard's 149th Fighter Wing and joint task force commander said military members have varied skills that can make a significant impact in the mission.
"It's been an outstanding effort by everyone involved with this endeavor," Col. Nichols said. "I'm proud of our Soldiers, Airmen and volunteers for responding, including their Families and employers who allow them to help their fellow Texans in need."
First Lt. Paula K. Dokupil of Austin, Texas, and a member of the Texas State Guard knows how devastating a hurricane can be, having helped in the relief efforts after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged states along the Gulf Coast.
Even if Dean turns away from Texas, 1st Lt. Dokupil said, this event gives Texas military members the chance to refine their emergency preparedness drills and identify issues that may affect response to other natural disasters or acts of terrorism.
"If anything comes out of this mission, it will surely help us prepare for future catastrophes, because we'll have honed our training and procedures, and will know exactly what to do the next time around," 1st Lt. Dokupil said.
Sgt. Mark A. Briseno of Progreso, Texas, and a member of the Texas Army National Guard's 36th Infantry Division, said he is proud to be able to help the people of his community as a Guard member. The rapid staging of manpower and resources, he said, shows the public the capabilities of Texas military members and local, state and federal agencies.
"It is very awe inspiring to see this amount of resource amass in such a short amount of time for such a great purpose ... and that is to save lives," he said.
Soldiers Helping in Belize
Approximately 20 Soldiers and Airmen from Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, deployed to Belize as part of an initial assessment team Aug 21. Army Maj. Michael Angell, task force commander for the mission, said damage to the countryAca,!a,,cs infrastructure was minimal but that damage to the crops from the wind and flooding could be substantial. Today, the team is continuing to survey the damage and help where needed.
(First Sgt. Lek Mateo wrties for the 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)