By Donna Miles
WASHINGTON, July 21, 2006 – National Guard troops are fanning out across the United States, confronting wildfires in the West and Midwest, conducting storm-recovery efforts in Missouri, providing security support in New Orleans, and boosting U.S. Border Patrol capabilities along the southwest border. With more than 4,200 Guardsmen supporting Operation Jump Start along the U.S.-Mexico border -- a number to go as high as 6,000 by Aug. 1, Guard members also are responding to two other major domestic operations, National Guard Bureau officials said today.
Almost 150 National Guard members are providing firefighting support, and another 200 responded after a series of powerful storms knocked out power to nearly a half-million people in Missouri in the midst of a heat wave. More than 40 North Carolina Air National Guardsmen from the 145th Airlift Wing arrived with two C-130 Hercules aircraft at Kingsley Field, a National Guard base near Klamath Falls, Oregon. From there, they will support the U.S. Forest Service and be ready to respond to wildfires in Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, Air Force Lt. Col. Rick Gibson said.
The Guardsmen will operate the Forest Service's Modular Airborne Firefighting System, used to disperse fire retardant ahead of fires, Gibson explained. This will buy time for firefighters on the ground and create fire breaks to control the blazes. Meanwhile, Gibson and other National Guard troops are serving in the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, to coordinate National Guard support for the firefighting mission.
In addition, the Nebraska Army National Guard deployed 57 people, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter and a CH-47 Chinook helicopter to support the wildfire response in Valentine, Neb. The North Dakota Army National Guard deployed 24 troops, a UH-60 and UH-1H Huey helicopter and a Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck to support firefighting efforts in Sioux County, N.D. In Minnesota, 11 Army National Guardsmen were called to duty to provide wildfire control in the west-central part of the state. They responded with two UH-60 helicopters and a fuel tanker.
Meanwhile, more than 200 members of the Missouri Army National Guard's 1140th Engineering Battalion are supporting the state Emergency Management Agency in the eastern portion of the state. Powerful storms in the region caused power outages that shut down the water plant and 10 cooling stations and left 500,000 people without service. The Guard troops are distributing water and generators, removing debris and providing transportation to people who need assistance, officials said.
In New Orleans, 345 Louisiana National Guard troops continue to support the New Orleans Police Department during Operation Crescent Guard. The Guard troops, from Camp Beauregard, La., are in New Orleans conducting roving patrols and manning static checkpoints, officials said. The troops have committed 99 Humvees, two fuel HEMTTs and a 5-ton wrecker to the effort.