At a press conference held on Tuesday, Air Force Maj. Gen. James C. Witham told the public that the Department of Defense plans to provide whatever capabilities the people of Texas need to survive and recover from the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey.
Witham, who serves as the director of domestic operations for the National Guard Bureau and deputy director of the Air National Guard, told the media that the current priority in the region around Houston is to save lives, followed by saving and protecting property. According to his figures, there will be 4,000 activated National Guard troops working in the rescue and recovery effort by Wednesday, with as many as 12,000 total Texas Guardsman standing by for deployment into hard hit areas, and “20,000 to 30,000 additional soldiers and airmen that could be used, if Texas asked for them.”
The governor of Texas has requested an [Army National Guard] military police battalion and Air National Guard security forces to assist local, state and federal law enforcement, specifically in the heavily flooded areas,” Witham said. “That big metropolitan area around Houston is where we think most of that assistance will be required.”
There are already Guard representatives from seven other states assisting in communities ranging from Corpus Christi to Houston, including: 13 airmen with the 176th Rescue Wing out of Alaska, about 90 airmen with the 129th Rescue Wing from California, a C-130 Hercules transport plane with eight airmen from the 103rd Airlift Wing in Connecticut, nearly 100 airmen with the 920th Rescue Wing out of Florida, 20 airmen with the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron out of Kentucky, more than 100 airmen, a C-130, three HH-60 Pave Hawk search-and-rescue helicopters and two C-17 transport jets with the 106th Rescue Wing from New York, and 15 members of the 125th Special Tactics Squadron out of Oregon whose missions include “rescue as well as restoring airfields so supplies can be flown in.”
There are currently 30 National Guard helicopters in the fight … supporting not only airborne search and rescue efforts with hoist capacity, but also supporting medevac capacity, where required,” the general said. “Twenty-four more have been requested by the state of Texas through the emergency assistance compacts [with other states], and will be en route to Texas today. And there’s the potential that we could grow up to 100 helicopters, as required by the state of Texas, as we continue to respond to the historic flooding around the Houston area. These include both Air National Guard and Army National Guard rotary-wing assets.”
This momentous effort has already yielded incredible results, with current estimates sitting at approximately 3,500 people having been rescued by National Guard troops. Most of these rescues have occurred by boat, but more than 300 people have been “hoist rescues,” or helicopter rescues from roof tops.
“It’s not only the humans associated with it … as we continue to alleviate the pain and suffering that the … citizens of Texas are experiencing right now,” he said, adding that Guard soldiers have also saved a reported 300 pets thus far.
Some portions of Texas have already received over 50 inches of rain, an unprecedented amount of water that has made the search and rescue effort a unique one. The search and rescue phase after a serious storm tends to last anywhere from 72 to 96 hours, before the focus shifts to recovery and rebuilding, but the storm’s relentless downpour first made landfall in Texas three days ago, and promises to return from the Gulf of Mexico at the Louisiana/Texas border again on Wednesday. As a result, the life saving focus of the National Guard’s effort remains, and will continue for the foreseeable future.
“There are currently 400 soldiers and airmen in state active duty in the state of Louisiana,” Witham said. “The state continues to pre-position equipment and materiel in advance of anticipated large flooding.”
Image courtesy of the Dept. of Defense