HOUSTON, TX, UNITED STATES
Story by Staff Sgt. Bethany Anderson
100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
HOUSTON -- Hurricane Harvey carved a path of destruction through countless communities in southeastern Texas for days, after making landfall with an estimated 130 mile per hour winds near Rockport, Texas, August 25, 2017. While storm winds, rain and flood waters brought chaos and tragedy to the area, Texas Guardsmen partnered with local, state and federal first responders, bringing life-saving support and supplies to Texans in need.
Months before Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas coast, the Texas Military Department worked with state and federal partners to plan a concept operation to rehearse inter-agency coordination and joint training. All of the training for Texas National Guard units would be put to the test before, during and after Harvey left its mark on Texas.
“While we don’t want to have to put our training to the test during a tragedy, our citizen-guardsmen remain prepared to help save lives and property, when called,” said Texas Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Patrick M. Hamilton, Dual Status Commander for Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts.
The Texas Military Department began strategically mobilizing Texas Army, Air and State Guardsmen as Harvey entered the Gulf of Mexico and approached the Texas coast. While the storm raged on, they worked with state and federal agencies through a phased approach to put the appropriate military resources in the right place at the right time.
“We are here to help our communities,” said Hamilton. “Working alongside our partner agencies and local first responders, we focused on deploying Guardsmen and resources where they were needed to save lives.”
Within three days of Harvey’s landfall, 12,000 Texas Guardsmen were working around the clock to support Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. It was the first time in since World War I that the entire force was mobilized at once.
The first priority was search and rescue. Zodiac boats, high-profile vehicles, helicopters and fixed wing aircraft from Texas and across the country were deployed in response to emergency conditions in affected areas.
Guardsmen from across the United States, partner first responders and service members from both active and reserve components waded through waters with boats and high profile vehicles. Overhead helicopter crews worked to airlift Texans stranded on rooftops, while Airmen in C-130s evacuated numerous people to safety.
Texas State Guardsmen were waiting with dry blankets and a smile, for displaced Texans at shelters across the state where evacuees would be identified and reunited with loved ones. Integrating seamlessly into Harvey relief operations, Texas Guardsmen helped with everything from search and rescue to critical life support, logistics support and safety operations.
Texas Guardsmen conducted hundreds of air and ground missions, performing more than 16,000 rescues and evacuating more than 18,000 people and 1,200 animals. As part of the complex inter-agency and joint operation, state and federal partners performed thousands of additional evacuations and rescue operations.
“This is what we train for,” said Hamilton. “And we’re proud to stand by our civilian partners, first responders and volunteers to serve the citizens of Texas.”
The Texas State Guard, an all-volunteer force, supported Harvey relief efforts with 17 boat teams for search and rescue operations and eight Electronic Tracking Network teams to help evacuees locate loved ones checked into shelters. In addition, the 41 Texas State Guard shelter teams sheltered more than 26,000 evacuees and more than 700 animals in 15 shelters across the state.
On Sept. 1, The sun broke through clouds, stopping what seemed like Harvey’s never-ending stream of rain a, causing flood waters to recede. As the threat from severe flooding began to dissipate, Texas Guardsmen switched their focus to supporting recovery and stability operations.
Texas Army and Air National Guardsmen immediately began constructing temporary hospitals and emergency clinics to aid medical first responders until hospitals regained power. Inside Texas Military Department medics worked side-by-side with civilian doctors to assess and treat those injured in the storm.
“There’s been some pretty serious injuries,” said Texas National Guard Spc. Sergio Villarreal, 1-143rd Infantry Regiment, “It’s great to see civilians and military working hand in hand.”
Thousands of families and individuals were stranded and without clean drinking water for days after Harvey passed over their cities. To provide Texas families in need of basic necessities, the Texas Military Department managed approximately 30 points of distribution in areas affected by Hurricane Harvey. Guardsmen, working with volunteers from all over the country, distributed food, clean water, hygiene, baby and pet products to more than 100,000 Texan families in cities from Corpus Christi to Beaumont as part of the relief operations.
Texas Military Department chaplains provided emotional and spiritual support to service members and first responders, while simultaneously coordinating with local churches to get much needed supplies to affected Texans. Soldiers from Texas and Ohio worked together to deliver and feed hay to stranded livestock, helping to preserve the local agriculture and economy.
“This is the way I serve my country. I’m here helping people out,” said Texas National Guard Pfc. Jonathan Galindo, 3-133rd Field Artillery, who worked as a member of a POD team in Orange. “You know, the water is high, they’re not able to get out of their homes. It’s great we’re able to provide for them here.”
The mission of the Texas Military Department is to provide the Governor and the President with ready forces in support of state and federal authorities at home and abroad. When they were called upon, the men and women from the Texas Guard were ready and answered that call with a passion to help people.
“Hurricane Harvey left great destruction in its path, and the recovery process will take many years,” said Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, The Adjutant General of Texas. “However, the Texas Military Department’s response to Hurricane Harvey, alongside our partners, saved lives and helped many Texans take the first step towards rebuilding.”