By Spec. J.p. LawrenceNovember 7, 2012
SPRING VALLEY, N.Y. (Nov. 7, 2012) -- New York Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class John A. Wilson stands guard, just as he has for the last few hours. To his right, 30 feet away, is a downed power line, entangled in a fallen tree. Is it live? Is it dead?
No matter. Each wire could be dangerous. Wilson's mission: man the wire and ensure the public stays safe and far away from it.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has mobilized more than 3,300 service members of New York's volunteer military forces to help civilian authorities in recovery efforts in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Sandy.
In Westchester and Rockland counties, those efforts include standing guard over fallen wires.
By standing guard, service members of the New York National Army Guard, the New York Air National Guard, the New York Naval Militia, and the New York Guard, aim to help civilian recovery efforts restore electricity as soon as possible.
Electrical workers have been working around the clock to restore the power, but there are only so many workers to go around. In the meantime, someone has to make sure that until the wires are fixed or deadened, no New Yorker is endangered.
Service members like Wilson, a saxophone player with the 42nd Infantry Division Band, are sent in teams to each downed wire. Then, armed with barricade tape, traffic triangles and flashlights, they cordon the area around the downed wires and stand guard until a civilian electrical worker comes by.
In addition to securing the safety of nearby New Yorkers, each 12-hour shift relieves civilian electrical workers from wire guard duty and allows them to focus on bringing the power back.
The help is much appreciated, Donato Jimenez, an Environmental Health and Safety Specialists with Consolidated Edison, said as he briefed a group of service members.
In neighboring Rockland County other Guard Soldiers are fulfilling that mission working with crews of New York State Electric and Gas and Orange and Rockland Utilities.
"I'm a little emotional," Jimenez, who said he was at the end of a long week, explained. "I've never been around so many people who do so much for America."
The job requires long hours in the cold or in the dark, Jimenez said, and in the past, frustrated customers have made the job difficult for wire watchers.
"No one's gonna say, 'thank you for watching the wire!'" Jimenez said. "It's a thankless job, but we need it to free up people and help restore power."
Nonetheless, numerous civilians went out of their way to thank the service members on wire watch. Tom O'Daniels and his son, Tyler, whose home Wilson stood in front of, came out to give thanks and cookies and coffee.
"Every house we went to, a civilan would come up to us, as military personnel, to give us thanks," said 1st Lt. Lenon Charles, a sustainment officer with the 42nd Infantry Division.
"It makes us feel that we are doing what we are trained to do, which is help the community and the people of the community," said Charles, a Brooklyn resident.