New York Air National Guard Communications Team Links Disaster Areas With the World
Airmen Provide Mobile Communications Infrastructure to Aid Civil Authorities, Flood Victims
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Raymond Drumsta
PRATTSVILLE, NY -- Syracuse-based New York Air National Guard Airmen are using high-tech, satellite communications gear to keep this flood-ravaged Catskill Mountain village in touch with the world.
Using their Joint Incident Site Communications Capability (JISCC), equipment a half-dozen Airmen of 174th Fighter Wing's Communications Flight provide phone and internet access for civilians hit hard by flooding which occurred in the wake of Hurricane Irene, and the emergency personnel who are responding to it.
The unit is located at Hancock Air National Guard Base in Syracuse.
"When we first rolled in here, the cell towers and phone lines were down," said JISCC Commander Lt. Col. Michael Adamitis. They're set up next to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Prattsville, and the VOIP phones, laptops, internet access, LMR radios and Wi-Fi they've given to the EOC personnel and first responders allow them to communicate with other command posts and coordinate help when and where it's needed, said Adamitis, of Syracuse.
"We've also set up an internet kiosk so the local population can access the internet and make phone calls," he said. "They can talk to their families and let them know they're ok. They seem to be relieved to talk to their families."
The airmen of the communications flight are trained to go where there are no communications and provide communications, said Adamitis. The communications infrastructure they've set up for the Prattsville-area population is just a portion of what they can do, he stressed.
"We're only using a third of our capability," he said. That's all they've been asked to provide at this point, but they can escalate or scale back the size of their response at the request of civil authorities or changing situations, he added.
Initially the 174th JISCC was staged at Stewart Air National Guard Base near Newburg on Aug. 27 -- ahead of Hurricane Irene's landfall -- in order to respond to New York City, Long Island, and other areas downstate, Adamitis said.
Though they were sent back to Syracuse on Aug. 30, they were back on the road to meet the disaster in the Prattsville area the next day, he explained.
They arrived and saw houses off their foundations, flooded buildings, washed out businesses and overturned or upside-down vehicles -- including cars, a bulldozer, a front loader and a tank truck, Adamitis recalled.
"Imagine a town covered in mud...everything shut down...masses of people on foot, on bikes, or in vehicles, moving up and down the main road of the town," he said. "There are very few buildings here untouched by floodwaters. Everything's caked in mud. Some people have already moved their belongings out into their front yards for the wreckers to take."
Despite these sights, Adamitis was struck by the look of determination on the faces of the people.
"They've been kicked in the teeth, but they're fighting back and winning," he stressed. Firefighters are hosing down parking lots, workers are delivering gravel and others are making the rounds in four-wheelers, taking food and water to those in need, he added.
"The activity here starts at 6 o'clock in the morning, and it ceases at 11 o'clock at night," he said, adding that the JISCC airmen are matching these 18-hour days. "We're on the same basic schedule they're running."
Even the post office is playing a part, he said.
"When we first got here, the U.S. postman was walking down the street, delivering mail to people as she saw them," he recalled.
The airmen have been inspired by the civilians' resiliency, Adamitis said.
"It made me feel humble to see how these people responded to the disaster," he said. "They're doing what they can to help themselves, and it makes us feel good to help them."
New York Army National Guard communications teams are also playing a role.
In Cobleskill, N.Y., Albany-area JISCC Soldiers are providing phone and internet access to civil authorities, along with phones, portable radios and laptop computers, said 1st Lt. Eric Muller, the commander of the JISCC there. They can provide dozens more of these communication devices and generate power to run or recharge them, he added.
"Communications is the key to everything," said Muller, of Malta, N.Y. "First responders need it. With the communications we're providing, the first responders and Soldiers can get out to the field and perform rescues and deliver other emergency services. The population knows we're here for them."
Soldiers of the 104th Military Police Company are manning the Mobile Emergency Response Center (MERC) in Cobleskill, said Sgt. Maj. Mark Tremblay, the emergency communications non-commission officer-in-charge for the capital-region JISCC.
Soldiers of the MERC are providing phones for civil authorities and New York national Guard, and the crucial data links between units in the field and the Joint Operation Center in Latham, N.Y., he explained.
The MERC Soldiers are ready to provide phone access and some internet data ports to flood victims and other civilians as well, said Tremblay, of Raymertown, N.Y.
Muller -- a Saratoga County Sheriff's Deputy in his civilian life -- appreciates the impact of cooperation and communication in times like these.
"Teamwork is everything in an emergency situation like this," he said. "Communication puts help where it's needed, and saves time and resources to better serve the public in a time of need, especially now."
LATHAM, N.Y. -- New York Army National Guard Soldiers of the 1156th Engineer Company drove and sometimes waded through floodwaters to rescue Windam N.Y. residents and deliver medical supplies in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.
The unit was staged with others at Camp Smith and Kingston, N.Y., facilities ahead of the storm’s landfall. When flooding occurred in Windham and other communities, Soldiers were sent to aid civil authorities.
Just getting to the Emergency Operations Center near Windham proved a challenge. The company tried two or three times, using trial and error, to find an un-flooded route, said Capt. Daniel Colomb, company commander of 1156th Engineer Company, which is based in Kingston and Camp Smith.
The devastation was incredible, he recalled. The main street of Windham was virtually a river, and the floodwaters were strong enough to carry away cars and trailer homes, he said.
"I’ve never seen anything of this magnitude before," he said.
Assigned to rescue trapped civilians in Windham, the Soldiers had to get out of their vehicles, lock arms, enter the sometimes waist-deep water, and use baby steps to find safe fording sites free of drop-offs or other hazards, Colomb said. He described the delicate operation as "searching with our feet," and "hands across the river."
"We got very wet," he said.
Once across these areas, the soldiers began to search for residents. They were guided by local authorities and some citizens, who pointed out where people were trapped, Colomb said.
The trapped people were happy to see the Soldiers and others coming to help, Columb said, and sometimes took personal belongings with them. The Soldiers occasionally had to carry residents to their vehicles before driving them to higher ground, he explained.
Soldiers also encountered a family who were endangered by fuel-laden floodwaters in their home, but didn’t want to leave, he recalled.
Though the family had taken refuge in their attic, the flood had floated their fuel-oil tank and carried it toward the house where it crashed through the window and began to leak, he said. The Soldiers managed to convince the family to come down from their attic to be rescued, he recalled.
"We saved their puppy too," he said.
They also rescued a man recovering from surgery, and their medic cleaned his wounds and made sure he was alright before they took him to a medical facility, Colomb said. He described the Windham residents as courageous.
"The town was coming together," he said. "Everyone was helping everyone else out."
Working with the local authorities was a great experience, and the morale of his troops remains high, Colomb said.
"It’s the job, it’s what we signed up for," he stressed.
Story by Master Sgt. Pete Towse and Sgt. 1st Class Raymond Drumsta
JEWETT, NY (08/30/2011)-A pair of New York Army National Guard Soldiers worked with Greene County emergency personnel and New York State Police to help rescue almost two dozen civilians stranded by Hurricane Irene's raging, dangerous floodwaters here Aug. 29.
Lt. Col. Albert Thiem of Ballston Spa, N.Y., Maj. Robert Giordano of Rexford, N.Y., and Greene County Deputy Sheriff's Deputy J.R. DelVecchio located the civilians across a flooded creek and coordinated their rescue by a state police helicopter.
The two Soldiers, who belong to the 42nd Infantry Division, were among the 2,500 New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo mobilized in response to the landfall and aftermath of Hurricane Irene, which has caused deaths and destruction in other states along the east coast.
"The devastation is incredible," said Lt. Col. Matthew Tully, a member of the 42nd Infantry Division. "Thousands are without power and fresh water. The National Guard has organized a task force to help these people."
The group of civilians -- which included a pregnant woman, four children and a man recovering from heart surgery -- were at a hunting camp near a shallow creek in Jewett, N.Y., Giordano said. They had parked their cars on the opposite side of the creek, and planned to leave the camp and cross the creek to their cars via a fording site, he explained.
But heavy hurricane rains and floods transformed the creek from a trickle into a torrent, trapping them.
Thiem, Giordano and DelVecchio were driving through Greene County assessing storm damages on Aug. 29 when the county Emergency Operations Center contacted them with a report about the civilians around mid-morning.
"We immediately linked up with the deputy sheriff to assist in any way we could," he said. Floods had made bridges impassable as well, forcing them to continue the search on foot, he added.
They spotted the civilians while trudging along a path by the creek about an hour later, Giordano said. The creek, however, was a muddy deluge which had brought down huge trees and picked up about a dozen cars, washing them up against its banks, he recalled.
"It was a mixed blessing," he said of finding the civilians. "We could see them, but we couldn't get to them and we couldn't hear them. We used hand and arm signals to exchange phone numbers, and we were then able to communicate."
He coordinated the evacuation of the civilians via a New York State Police helicopter, Thiem said.
"The helicopter was able to make four trips within two hours of the initial assessment of the situation," Thiem said. "There were no incidents and everyone made it out safely."
Thiem said he enjoyed working with the sheriff's deputies and state police.
"Everyone was very focused on rescuing these folks, and we worked as a team to get the job done," he said.
It was a great experience to work with the National Guard, DelVecchio said.
"You guys are very professional and we are glad you are here," he said.
The New York National Guard is there to help its neighbors, Giordano stressed.
"In an operation like this, everyone does everything," he explained. "You do what needs to get done."
by New York State Division of Military & Naval Affairs
New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo speaks with members of the 206th Military Police Company preparing to deploy to Long Island on Saturday, August 27.
New York Air National Guardsmen from the 107th Airlift Wing board a C-130 at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station en route to the Hudson Valley to prepare for Hurricane Irene's landfall.
Gov., Andrew Cuomo Visits New York National Guard Troops
LATHAM, NY (08/26/2011)(readMedia)-- At the direction of Governor Andrew Cuomo the New York Army and Air National Guard will mobilize and deploy 900 Soldiers and Airmen and over 100 vehicles on Saturday, August 27 in response to Hurricane Irene to support civil authorities on Long Island, New York City, and the Hudson Valley .
If necessary a total of 12,466 Airmen and Soldiers with more than 680 vehicles; 16 Army National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters; and 4 Ch-47 Chinook helicopters; along with 10 C-130 cargo aircraft and 6 HH-60 Pavehawk rescue helicopters assigned to the Air National Guard are ready to respond if called upon.
"We want to thank the members of the Guard for their service and their sacrifice as they head out this morning for New York City and Long Island," Gov. Cuomo said.
The governor visited members of the 206th Military Police Company and the 109th Airlift Wing who assembled at New York National Guard headquarters here on Saturday, August 27, prior to moving to Long Island to wait out the storm.
National Guard Soldiers and Airmen began moving to Long Island, New York City, and the Camp Smith Training Site near Peekskill in the Hudson Valley from locations across the state Saturday morning. Convoys and buses left from the Albany area, Auburn, Utica, Syracuse and Queensbury and Airmen from western New York flew into the Hudson Valley.
Guardsman from locations outside the area were being deployed so that Guard members living in the expected hurricane landfall area could take care of their families. Many Guard members are also fire fighters, police officers, and public employees who will respond to the storm in their civilian capacity.
The plan the National Guard is executing at the direction of the governor calls for:
-- 230 Soldiers and Airmen to station themselves with high-axle vehicles, and high-tech satellite communications equipment , and chain saws at the Farmingdale Armed Forces Reserve Center no later than Saturday evening. These troops will remain in place at the center to ride out the storm and then immediately respond to aid civil authorities as directed.
This task force will include:
-120 Military Police Soldiers from the 206th Military Police Company in Latham, New York
-50 Transportation Soldiers from the 1427 Medium Truck Company in Queensbury New York
-30 Air National Guard members from the 109th Airlift Wing at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia New York.
-10 Soldiers assigned to the Signal Detachment at Joint Forces Headquarters in Latham who will operate high-tech satellite communications equipment known as the JISCC (Joint Incident Site Communications Capability).
- 20 Military Police Soldiers from the 102nd Military Police Battalion in Auburn, NY
--Approximately 290 Soldiers will be stationed at Camp Smith near Peekskill and prepared to move to Long Island after the storm passes over and transportation routes are reopened.
- 45 Military Police Soldiers from the 102nd Military Police Battalion in Auburn
- 65 Military Police Soldiers from the 222nd Military Police Company in Auburn
- 60 Transportation Soldiers from the 1569th Transportation Company in New Windsor
-120 Air National Guardsmen from three Air National Guard Wings: the 174th Fighter Wing at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse; the 107th Airlift Wing at Niagara Air Reserve Station in Niagara Falls; and the 105th Airlift Wing at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburg.
--225 Soldiers will be placed on duty augment the National Guard's Joint Task Force Empire Shield in New York City, or to assist local governments in the lower Hudson Valley. These Soldiers will be based at the Harlem Armory in New York City and Camp Smith near Peekskill.
- 75 Soldiers from C Company 1st Battalion 69th Infantry headquartered at Camp Smith
- 75 members of the New York Air National Guard from bases across the state
- 75 Soldiers from the 369th Support Brigade in New York City.
-- An additional 140 Soldiers and Airmen will be on duty in Latham, and Camp Smith and on other locations to provide logistical support and command and control for the National Guard Task Force.
Story by: Sgt. Michael E. Davis Jr., - 369th Sustainment Brigade
Dated: Wed, Aug 31, 2011
SCHOHARIE, NY --Armed with high-axle trucks, good will and the willingness to help, New York Army National Guard Soldiers of the 719th Transportation Company joined local police to rescue people trapped by Hurricane Irene flood waters here on Aug. 29.
Soldiers of the company, based in Harlem, are among the 2,500 New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen New York Governor Andrew Cuomo mobilized in response to the landfall and aftermath of Hurricane Irene, which has caused deaths, destruction and disarray in other states along the east coast.
Some of that disarray occurred in Schoharie, N.Y., where flooding damaged streets and trapped people in their homes. Soldiers of the 719th Transportation Company took to their trucks to help out.
"Whenever I’m needed and wherever something is happening, I want to be there," said Sgt. Windollyn V. Patino, who is motor transport operator with company. "That’s what I’m here for."
Guided by a local police officer, company Soldiers in a four-vehicle convoy of Light Medium Tactical Vehicles (LMTVs) drove the streets to find trapped citizens in need of help. A high-axle vehicle, the LMTV truck can ford deep water and operate in cross-country terrain.
Trolling the streets at around fifteen miles per hour, Patino continuously honked his vehicle horn.
"I wanted to make sure people could hear me so they could scream out of their windows for help," said Patino.
The honking appeared to pay off as a woman yelled out to the Soldiers from the upper floors of her house.
"We found one lady, who was around 50 years old, screaming and crying for help, so we moved right away to get her out," said Patino. She had been trapped in her house for two days.
The woman threw her personal belongings down to Patino and his fellow Soldier, Pfc. Daniel Paul, who is also a motor transport operator with the company. She then proceeded downstairs for Patino’s help.
Though the front doors of the house were stuck shut by mud and debris, Patino managed to kick them open, rescue the woman and get her to safety.
"That experience made me feel good, I feel like we’re here for something," Patino stressed. "We’re here to help the people."
After getting the woman to safety, Patino and the rest of the Soldiers continued to roam the streets, looking for more people to rescue. Local civilians, fire fighters and other supporting organizations thanked the Soldiers of the 719th Transportation Company.
As did New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, Maj. Gen. Patrick A. Murphy, the Adjutant General of New York and Brig. Gen. Michael C. Swezey, Commanding General of the 53rd Troop Command, who arrived in helicopters to visit Schoharie. The entourage saluted the Soldiers and shook their hands.
"He was pretty cool," Patino said of Cuomo. "He said he was thankful for us being there."
When the visited ended, more Hurricane Irene recovery awaited the Soldiers, including streets cracked, cratered and demolished by flood waters. Local police assigned Soldiers to block the roads so no one would get hurt or killed, said Sgt. T’angelo J. Magee, a company motor transport operator.
"We had to set up off-set vehicle barricades for safety reasons," Magee said.
Local civilians thanked them a great deal, Magee recalled. When the civilians found out the Soldiers came from New York City, they joked that they’d made a long commute to help out, he added.
"I told them that we are the New York Army National Guard, we’re here to help people and defend those who can’t defend themselves," Magee said.
Patino said he has a wife who is eight months pregnant, and a daughter who is just turning four years old. His daughter was crying and did not want him to go, he added, so he told her why he had to go in a way she could understand.
"Baby, I have to go help families and people out there who need my help," said Patino, reiterating what he explained to his daughter. "I need to take them to safety so they can be just like you -- good, in a nice environment and warm blankets."