In 2017, the Georgia State Defense Force was repeatedly activated to assist and support National Guard forces during the national emergencies declared due to Hurricane Irma and Maria. Below are two articles covering the activations and the work the Georgia SDF performed:
Macon, Ga., Sep. 28, 2017 – When Hurricane Irma ripped through the southeast United States in September, Soldiers from the Georgia State Defense Force readily stepped up to assist in relief efforts surrounding the most intense Atlantic hurricane to strike the country in more than a decade.
Hurricane Irma was the most intense Atlantic hurricane to hit the United States since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Hurricane Irma’s impact prompted Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal to declare a state of emergency for all 159 counties.
Gov. Deal also authorized thousands of Georgia National Guardsmen to respond to the disaster. GSDF deployed its Soldiers to serve alongside them.
By the time Hurricane Irma reached metropolitan Atlanta, it had been downgraded from a Category 5 storm. However, the hurricane had already caused devastation in southern Georgia and in Florida. Hundreds of Floridians had evacuated their homes, many fleeing to Georgia for refuge. Throughout the storm and in its aftermath, GSDF Soldiers performed various duties, including crowd control, supply distribution, and logistical support.
From Operation Vigilant Guard to Hurricane Irma
In March, GSDF Soldiers participated in a multi-state, multi-day training exercise known as Vigilant Guard. The U.S. Northern Command, in conjunction with the National Guard Bureau, sponsored this joint regional exercise. The exercise occurred at multiple Georgia locations.
“The Vigilant Guard 2017 multi-jurisdiction exercise earlier this year was an excellent training opportunity that prepared me for my role in the Joint Operations Center,” said Spc. Alexander Davidson, Non-Commissioned Officer-in- Charge, GSDF Public Affairs Office. “We train for these type of catastrophic events. When Hurricane Irma struck, GSDF Soldiers were prepared to do our part to aid in the response and recovery.”
Ready to Serve
GSDF Soldiers continued to assist in hurricane relief efforts during the week after the storm made landfall, living up to “Parati Servire,” the Latin phrase for “Ready to Serve” that GSDF Soldiers wear on their uniforms. Brig. Gen. Tom Danielson, GSDF Commander, commended GSDF Soldiers who volunteered during Hurricane Irma.
“It’s part of our dedication, our commitment, and our readiness to serve,” he said.
Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Marietta, Georgia. Between September 22 and October 1, 2017, Georgia State Defense Force troops were activated to support the Hurricane Maria relief efforts to help evacuees.
Hurricane Maria caused catastrophic damage and a major humanitarian crisis in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The hurricane severely impacted and damaged the Puerto Rico power grid, leaving all 3.4 million residents without electricity. Initial reports of the damage predicted it could take months before power is completely restored to the entire island. Hospitals are experiencing life-and-death situations to treat their patients without the benefit of electricity or with limited generator power. This created dangerous conditions for critically ill patients. As a result, FEMA and U.S. Public Health officials made the decision to transfer several patients to Continental United States hospitals.
The Georgia State Defense Force was tasked to help. Over sixty soldiers, under the leadership of on-site commander, Lieutenant Colonel Ronald Russell and on-site NCO in charge, Sergeant First Class Steven Stewart, tirelessly worked for ten days and eleven nights. Evacuees from the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, flown by U.S. Air Force aircrafts and some commercial aircrafts were delivered into Dobbins Air Reserve Base. Ambulatory and non-ambulatory were carefully taken off the aircraft, then processed and transported to metro Atlanta medical facilities for follow up care, to include life-saving dialysis treatment.
GSDF soldiers continuously conduct training to improve their skillset in missions such as, search and rescue, transporting casualties (role players) using medevac and cargo aircraft, CPR/First Aid, patient triage, and setting up mobile field hospitals. In March 2017, GSDF soldiers participated in the major state-wide exercise called “Vigilant Guard 2017”. This exercise involved several state and federal agencies that demonstrated collaboration during multiple emergencies. As a result, GSDF soldiers were trained and prepared when called to assist in the Hurricane Maria relief efforts.
“GSDF soldiers did a great job during this real-world medical support mission”, said Lieutenant Colonel Debbie Redling, Commander of the 132nd Medical Battalion who served as mission commander. The organizations involved during the Hurricane Maria relief operations included the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Georgia Department of Public Health, and Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security, several local ambulance companies, and the Georgia State Defense Force.
“The GSDF troops worked shoulder-to-shoulder with other important state and federal agencies. This is what we do. We help people who need our help”, said Colonel Eddie Williams, Commander of the 76th Support Brigade.