By Sgt. 1st Class Mark BellApril 28, 2011
FORT JACKSON, S.C. - As tornadoes and extreme weather destroyed communities and uprooted lives across the South early Thursday morning, the hum of an abnormal activity filled the 81st Regional Support Command's headquarters building here as small teams began receiving reports from the field.
As images of Army Reserve facilities destroyed or damaged across the South arrived into the headquarters responsible for all buildings in nine southeastern states and Puerto Rico, the emergency operations center here quickly begin dissecting the enormous amount of data being collected.
"Our number one concern is the safety and accountability of our Army Reserve Families," Maj. Gen. Bill Gerety, commanding general of the 81st RSC, said Thursday morning after receiving initial reports from the field. "We have more than 45,000 Soldiers living in communities across our area of responsibility. We are working with our operational force counterparts to ensure our Families are safe, and their needs are met."
"Our mission to provide base operation support to those commanders will continue to move forward without hesitation," Gerety said about the storms making some Reserve facilities inhabitable for work today. "We are working diligently to ensure those commanders on the ground have a safe facility for their Soldiers to continue to train and prepare for their mission."
Gerety said, although the majority of the traditional Army Reserve Soldiers work on weekends, there is a sizeable fulltime staff of Soldiers and civilians who are paramount to the success of Reserve mission.
"If it rains, we train," he said about the old Army training clique. "Adverse weather is not an option to stop our daily business of supporting the force. Here at the 81st, we have a large staff of professionals working hard with local community utilities and agencies to gather the facts and ensure our facilities remain secure and safe."
As directorate of public works personnel started making phone calls to utility agencies, directorate of emergency services were contacting facility managers to ensure the buildings and equipment used to train to fight the war on terror was secured.
The sounds of dozens of incoming phone calls filled the large office building, and the chatter of makeshift operations cells gathered at empty tables throughout the Fort Jackson-based hub.
"We have a plan in place for incidents like last night," said James Eggleton, the chief of staff for the Wildcat command, "We have trained throughout the year to prepare our staff for natural disasters. Today's mission is to make sure we have the resources in place to assist the unit commanders."
By 10 a.m., nearly a dozen directorate leaders gathered in the "war room" to assess the current situation and readjust their efforts to the most damaged facilities.
As the violent storm quickly rolled past Columbia, S.C., the Wildcat team breathed easier as the skies cleared, and the sun quickly warmed the air.
"At the end of the day, we are here to provide our nation with a ready force to protect and defend democracy and our way of life as Americans," Gerety said. "Today, it just happened to be an extraordinary rainy day."