By T. Anthony BellNovember 8, 2012
FORT LEE, Va. (Nov. 8, 2012) -- First Lt. Melanie Wells knows what it's like to be in the midst of a storm like the one that raked the New York-New Jersey coastal areas last week.
"We lost power and water for three weeks," said the Vicksburg, Miss. native, referring to Hurricane Katrina, a 2005 storm that caused more than 1,800 deaths and billions of dollars in damage. "We didn't have food. It was bad."
She's also familiar with the relief side of the disaster equation.
"I had to report to my National Guard unit 48 hours after the storm hit," recalled the former sergeant.
Wells is now assigned to Fort Lee's 108th Quartermaster Company, 530th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 82nd Sustainment Brigade. The 24-year-old led a group of 28 Soldiers who travelled to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Saturday to support relief efforts in areas hit by Hurricane Sandy. She said her Hurricane Katrina experiences have helped her to deal with the current situation.
"The first thing it helped me with is my patience," she said, "because I understand with this mission there will be a lot of moving pieces, it might be chaotic and it won't be known exactly where we might be needed."
The late-October storm Sandy produced winds and rainfall that has caused extensive physical damage and power outages from North Carolina to New York. It is responsible for more than a 100 deaths and $20 billion in damage and growing. As of Tuesday, thousands in the region were still without power as threats of colder temperatures and more inclement weather loomed.
Wells' group is a fractional representation of the 108th, a petroleum pipeline element that utilizes hoses and pumps to carry out its mission. The Soldiers packed up miles of hose and six large pumps that will be used to relieve flooding in affected areas. They joined hundreds of federal, state and local emergency support personnel and equipment at JBMDL, one of the locations where the federal response is being staged and coordinated.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the 108th group was still at JBMDL. It had not received its mission orders, and it wasn't clear when it might. Wells said waiting to mobilize has dampened her enthusiasm a bit.
"I am frustrated," she said by telephone. "I'm just ready to get a mission, get out there and do something."
Wells said her Soldiers have kept themselves busy shoring up preparations and helping other units prepare.
"Their morale is high," she said. "I think they feel like as long as they are doing something, they're great."
Capt. Milena Williams, the 108th commander, said she is proud of how the group, their fellow Soldiers and others responded to mobilization orders.
"The Soldiers, NCOs and officers of 108th did an outstanding job getting the equipment and the team ready," she said via email Tuesday. "The 530th assisted whenever we called upon them. The company came together as a team -- the platoons completing specific tasks of loading up the hoses or getting MREs and water or loading up trailers. For this reason, we were ready to ship out in 48 hours from receiving the call to assist."
Williams also said relief missions are just as important to the unit as any military mission.
"It's an honor and a privilege to be called for a humanitarian purpose versus a tactical one," she said. "It's a humbling experience because our efforts may make the lives of people better."
The mobilized 108th Soldiers are tentatively scheduled to return to Fort Lee in two weeks, said Wells, but are prepared to stay two months.
Look for updates to the 108th mission on the www.facebook.com/ftleetraveller webpage and in print editions of the Fort Lee Traveller.