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New York National Guard responds to hurricane threat

  • Published
  • By Mark Getman,
  • New York National Guard

WESTHAMPTON BEACH, N.Y. – As Hurricane Henri headed for Long Island Aug. 21, the New York National Guard mobilized 485 Soldiers and Airmen to respond to damage in the wake of the storm.

The forecast indicated that heavy rain and 65 mph wind gusts could strike eastern Long Island. There was also a chance heavy rains could hit the Hudson Valley and the Albany area.

Instead, Henri made landfall around Watch Hill, Rhode Island.

"We got lucky," said Air National Guard Lt. Col. Glyn Weir, the commander of the Long Island response force. "The path of the hurricane was supposed to hit the base directly, (but) the impact was minimal."

The Long Island task force had 139 Soldiers and Airmen working jointly at the Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach and the Farmingdale Armed Forces Reserve Center. This allowed the teams to cover any contingency in central or eastern Suffolk County on Long Island.

The task force drew from members of regional units; the 106th Rescue Wing; 105th Airlift Wing, 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation; 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry; 101st Expeditionary Signal Battalion; and the 1156th Engineer Company to provide capabilities for debris clearance, high-axle vehicle support and general-purpose forces.

Troops at the Farmingdale Armed Forces Reserve Center were organized into a 10-person debris clearance team with two skid steers and two dump trucks, and two high-axle 20-person immediate response forces – one with four trucks and a humvee and another with five trucks.

At Gabreski Air National Guard Base, there was a 10-person debris clearance team with two skid steers and two dump trucks and a high-axle immediate response force with two trucks and three humvees.

"This was my first time as a joint task force commander," said Weir, who commands the logistics readiness squadron of the 106th Rescue Wing. "It was great having an emergency operations staff who all knew their roles and responsibilities. They made the process go smoothly."

The only support request for the team at Gabreski came from the New York State Police's Troop L in Brentwood. The troopers asked for humvees to be available in case motorists were stranded in flooding on the Long Island Expressway.

"The overall morale was high when we had the task to assist the State Police," Weir said. "This was a positive boost to service members who volunteered. They were given a mission to help their local community."

Going on state active duty was a new experience for Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Sarah Caicedo, a member of the 106th Rescue Wing's logistics readiness squadron.

"It felt good knowing that we were getting called up to help our local community," Caicedo said. "This was my first domestic emergency activation since joining (in 2017). I was deployed to Africa earlier this year for four months, but I joined for this reason: to serve my community.

"This is part of our core values, to put service before self," Caicedo said.

In the Hudson Valley, 250 Soldiers and Airmen were mobilized at the Camp Smith Training Site near Peekskill. Another 50 Soldiers from the 42nd Infantry Division were on duty at the Troy Armory.

The team at Camp Smith included a 20-person Engineer Initial Response Force equipped with a loader, two skid steers, and two dump trucks.
Sixty administrative and logistics personnel were also on duty to support the mission.

Troops were prepared to assist local authorities even as the threat of hurricane-force winds diminished and the threat of heavy rains and flooding became the greater concern.

On Aug. 23, the state announced that rainfall totals from Henri had exceeded 7 inches in Brooklyn and Central Park, more than 6 inches in Queens, and 3 to 4 inches in Westchester, Suffolk and Nassau counties. Power outages were not a major problem, with roughly 2,000 without power after the storm.

While there were reports of roads closed and cars stranded due to flooding, as well as downed trees and wires in multiple locations, city and county emergency managers had response efforts in hand. New York National Guard members were released and returned to normal duties on Aug. 23.

Even for a near-miss hurricane, the experience of providing a rapid response and capability built confidence, said Airman 1st Class Adonys Arguetta Flores, another member of the 106th Rescue Wing.

"This was my first hurricane mission since joining," Arguetta Flores said, "and I expected it to be a lot worse but was glad it wasn't."

Arguetta Flores, a Long Island native, was assigned as a humvee driver for the response forces and staged at the airbase in Westhampton Beach.

"This was a short mission but a great experience to help my local community," he said.