"Task Force IKE" heads to Houston, TX

“Task Force IKE” heads to Houston, TX
Patricio Espinoza

MAJOR J. Michael Spraggins, with the Texas State Guard explains as “Task Force IKE” heads to Houston.
MAJOR J. Michael Spraggins, with the Texas State Guard explains as “Task Force IKE” heads to Houston.

San Antonio, TX- Sep, 13, 2008.- Texas National Guard convoys are heading to Houston, Galveston and Ike affected areas. CNN i_reporter Patricio Espinoza and espiBlog independent journalist & blogger captures the first images of the Texas military search, rescue and support task force.

Major J. Michael Spraggins, with the Texas State Guard explains as “Task Force IKE” heads to Houston from what once was Kelly AFB, now known as Port San Antonio where about five thousand of Ike evacuees are already in shelter. See more: www.espiblog.org

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Thousands of soldiers and airmen to deploy in preparation for IKE

Thousands of soldiers and airmen to deploy in preparation for Ike
Joshunda Sanders, Austin American Statesman
Several thousand active duty Texas Military Soldiers and Airmen will be deployed from the Bee Caves armory in Austin this morning to San Antonio in preparation for Hurricane Ike, the Texas Military Forces has announced.

Currently, Hurricane Ike is expected to make landfall just north of South Padre Island.

Gov. Rick Perry has authorized state active duty deployment for up to 7,500 Texas Military Soldiers and Airmen, said Susan Ribeiro with the Texas Military Forces.

Ribeiro said that state preparations started Sunday. “This 2008 hurricane season has demonstrated that we have to be prepared at all times,” she said. “If you need us, we will be there.”

The Texas Military Forces is made up of Army National Guard, Air National Guard and Texas State Guard.

Texas National Guard Prepares for IKE

Texas National Guard Prepares for Ike
Texas National Guard Press Release

Texas Army National Guard and Texas State Guard soldiers training together on the SNITS system Special Needs Evacuation Tracking System.
Texas Army National Guard and Texas State Guard soldiers training together on the SNITS system Special Needs Evacuation Tracking System.

CAMP MABRY, Austin, Texas (Sep 9, 2008, 3 p.m.) – Governor Rick Perry has once again authorized state active duty deployment for up to 7,500 Texas Military Soldiers and Airmen in response to Hurricane IKE , a weather system threatening the Gulf Coast.

What started with Hurricanes Dolly, Edouard and Gustav, is now being dwarfed by what officials say is a very dangerous hurricane IKE. State preparations started Sunday at H-120 or 120 hours prior to expected landfall. Key personnel from local, state and federal agencies gathered to brief Mr. Jack Colley, Deputy Director (Governor’s Office) Division of Emergency Management on the state of readiness.

If anything, this 2008 hurricane season has demonstrated that we have to be prepared at all times. Hurricanes do not occur at convenient times or with sufficiently timed intervals. For Texas Military Forces, their families and civilian employers it means that “preparedness” is not a catch phrase but a constant state of readiness that impacts the local community because of and in spite of a Soldier or Airman’s deployment. The civilian employer may lose a valued employee to military duty, but receives in return force multipliers who save lives in their communities and protect property from flood waters.

For the Texas Military Forces IKE’s current preparations are comprised of pre-and post landfall assistance and include ground and air evacuation hubs, bus fueling points, management of staging areas for evacuation buses, points of distribution operations and shelter management.

The SNITS wrist band will be worn and give up to date location of all evacuees.
The SNITS wrist band will be worn and give up to date location of all evacuees.

All available air assets are being reconfigured for search and rescue and medical air evacuations. Defense Support to Civil Authorities is not your typical military operation and requires patience and adaptation to current circumstances. Sometimes our best-laid plans change in favor of a dramatic change in the weather pattern or even where the storm will make landfall, but whatever the case maybe, our main focus will never shift which is the safety and wellbeing of our fellow citizens.

If our mere presence in a community has a calming effect, then that is our mission. When we have to go door-to-door to hand out MREs, ice and water - then that is our mission. When we have to fly patients to safety – that is what we do. When the power fails and we reestablish communications with first responders and district disaster commanders, we’ll do that; but first and foremost our mission is to save lives and protect property.

If you need us, we will be there.

Austin Area Guard Soldiers leave for Hurricane IKE duty

Austin Area Guard Soldiers Leave For Hurricane Ike Duty
Jason Wheeler

MAJ Kris Krueger of the Texas State Guard explains this year has been busier than expected.
MAJ Kris Krueger of the Texas State Guard explains this year has been busier than expected.

Several dozen area soldiers packed up and hit the road Tuesday morning in preparation for Hurricane Ike, which is now taking aim on the Texas coast.

Just a little more than halfway through hurricane season, some of the volunteers who serve this state during storms have already been called upon to help four different times because of Dolly, Edouard, Gustav, and now Ike.

In an understatement, Maj. Kris Krueger of the Texas State Guard explained, "It has been a little bit busier year than may have been expected."

But Gov. Rick Perry, who ordered 7,500 troops to stand ready for Ike, explained it’s better to be over prepared than overwhelmed.

He’s hoping that mantra will be adopted by Texans who might have been unimpressed with recent storms and are now suffering from 'evacuation fatigue' this time around.

"Our old adage at the state emergency operations center is buses instead of body bags. These are people’s lives that are at stake here," Perry said.

Perry expects most potential evacuees to leave when told to. In case they don’t, the state has assembled a new storm response team called Task Force Ike. The outfit will be specifically charged to go in right after the storm and perform high water rescues.

In the Midst of the Storm: Tyler's Police Chaplains answer the call

In The Midst Of The Storm: Tyler’s Police Chaplains Answer The Call
Patrick Butler - Religion Editor

SHELTER FROM THE STORM: Texas State Guard Chaplain Lt. Col. Billy Corn coordinates with Shelia Dawson, shelter manager, of the American Red Cross in Tyler on Aug. 28 at Harvey Convention Center.Ms. Gilbert smiled again as she looked at Texas State Guard troopers who were tidying up from Gustav.Photo by Staff Photo By Jaime R. Carrero, Tyler Morning Telegraph
SHELTER FROM THE STORM: Texas State Guard Chaplain Lt. Col. Billy Corn coordinates with Shelia Dawson, shelter manager, of the American Red Cross in Tyler on Aug. 28 at Harvey Convention Center.Ms. Gilbert smiled again as she looked at Texas State Guard troopers who were tidying up from Gustav.Photo by Staff Photo By Jaime R. Carrero, Tyler Morning Telegraph

The Rev. Clara Gilbert finally sat still in a blue-cushioned chair after evacuees had gone home on Wednesday -- gone via buses to Beaumont or beyond after spending days on a cot at Harvey Convention Center.

It hadn’t been the most sedate of times.

Though a hard rain didn’t fall when it came to Tropical Storm Gustav, there were still attitudes and adjustments evacuees had to work through as they crammed themselves into less-comfortable quarters than home would have been under similar circumstances.

And Tyler Police Chaplain Clara Gilbert, pastor of Tyler’s First United Methodist Church, was there to give a hug, a smile, a prayer and some good advice.

“It was hard on some,” said Ms. Gilbert, as she recalled with a smile so many people she had encountered. “One girl with a child decided she’d had enough and was just going to go home on her own. She said, “They made us come here and we could have stayed home.”

“I told her, ’Don’t go. You never know what God is trying to protect you from. There could be trees down, or electricity out, or lack of law-enforcement in your neighborhood and you’d be at risk.’”

“I told her, ’These people here are bending over backwards for you. They’re waiting on you hand and foot. You have everything you need here’ and we had a word of prayer. That calmed her down.”

That’s what chaplains do, said Lt. Col. Billy Corn, the Task Force chaplain in East Texas. Corn was staying at the home of Tyler’s “lead” police chaplain, Jerry Page, a member of Green Acres Baptist Church.

“Our job is to look into the faces of everyone and detect any stress they are going through,” Corn said. “The Guard provides security; the Red Cross supplies their physical needs. Chaplains provide for any spiritual and emotional needs people -- both workers and those receiving help -- might need. In a situation like this, there is stress everywhere.”

Three Tyler police chaplains -- Ms. Gilbert, Page and Anwar Khalifa of the East Texas Islamic Society -- augmented Corn’s four chaplains who were spread out in shelters from Troup to Tyler.

There was plenty to do, said Page.

“I’m exhausted,” he said with a wide grin at the convention center on Wednesday. “You work a full day and then come here every night. It’s a lot to handle. People need to talk, be encouraged, hugged, kids played with, and parents prayed with. There were a lot of situations that came up -- people issues, personal issues and religious issues.”

Such as when a woman getting ready for Ramadan, the annual fast and religious observances for Muslims, was doing her ceremonial cleansing in a common sink. Concerned Red Cross workers were wary about health and sanitation issues, said Ms. Gilbert. Communication between cultural lines was potentially sticky.

“Here you had two goals headed towards each other, Physical and spiritual. There was a breakdown of communication,” said Ms. Gilbert who was on “chaplain call” for the month of September and on hand. Tyler Police Chaplain Anwar Khalifa was called in. When he arrived, he immediately saw what was happening.

“Ramadan is very meaningful to Muslims, because it’s a time of purification of the soul, a focus on thinking of others, fasting and giving sacrificially,” he said. “Muslims don’t have to fast when we’re under stress or traveling, and fleeing a hurricane definitely fits that description. These Muslims didn’t have to observe Ramadan, but religion takes on more meaning when you’re under stress, and they wanted to do go through it. They knew we understood what they were doing and that we wanted to help them.”

“I went to the head chaplain (Cross) and inquired if there were a better way to accomplish the ceremony,” said Ms. Gilbert. “We found a solution and there was communication and clear understanding.”

And a solution.

An area used by aid workers to wash up was made available to the Muslims. Khalifa also brought his daughters, Rana and Sara, 20 and 17 years old, down to offer some cultural support.

“We brought them some foods that’d you normally see at Ramadan,” he said. “Rana and Sara wore their hajib’s (head scarves), so if there were any other Muslims in the center, they’d see that and come over. Everything worked out fine.”

That’s exactly what chaplains want to see, Corn said.

“Chaplains make spiritual and emotional contact to relieve stress,” he said. “We learn to look for clues -- a lost child, a hurting elderly person, a divided family, people struggling with living in unfamiliar surroundings with unfamiliar faces all around them.”

As Tyler’s police chaplains withdrew, as the crowds were bused out Wednesday, Corn and the Texas State Guard Task Force were getting ready for potential evacuees from Hurricane Ike that could churn its way right into Texas.

“We’re not leaving,” he said. “It’s easier for us to stay and see if Ike is going to force people to flee than for us to go back and then be recalled. If anything happens, we’ll be here.”

They will be there -- waiting to help relieve stress when hurricanes hit home.

NETCOM's Ham Radio Operators Tackle Gustav

NETCOM’s Ham Radio Operators Tackle Gustav
Bill Sexton (N1IN)
Ft Huachuca–Hurricane Gustav didn’t just pose a critical final exam for the crisis managers of FEMA and levee builders in the Corps of Engineers. To the volunteer radio operators in Army MARS, too, it was the first real flexing under fire of new communications muscle developed after Hurricane Katrina.

And the system worked.

--At several evacuation centers in Mississippi and Louisiana and National Guard refueling points in Texas, a handful of deployment teams from the Army Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS) provided backup voice and digital communications as Gustav raged past.

--The Army MARS e-mail over HF radio system–WinLink–networked emergency operations centers across the affected zone. The Transportation Security Administration and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief were key partners on the country-wide WinLink net.

--Augmented net schedules kept communications open throughout the region until Gustav blew itself out at midweek. MARS stations countrywide had monitored for any emergency transmission. The Army MARS gateway station at Ft Huachuca, AAA9USA, which is manned by contract personnel, served as central coordinating point.

--Throughout the emergency, some 850 Army MARS volunteers in FEMA regions four and six were on standby to relay critical message traffic from their home stations, a goodly number of them ready to respond with portable Emergency Communications rigs if needed. Fellow hams from the Air Force and Navy-Marine Corps branches of MARS shared net operations during the emergency in a carefully-prepared demonstration of interoperability.

“This kind of turnout wasn’t really anything new,” said Stuart S. Carter, the retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who is the Army MARS Chief. “MARS has been working hurricanes since the 1920s.

“What was new is the carefully tailored, almost seamless fit between our operators and the agencies we support,” he said. “That’s what was missing when Hurricane Katrina happened.”

Gustav was no Katrina, Carter went on, “but it exercised just about every aspect of disaster response.

“I was particularly impressed by the meticulous preparation from Army MARS region leadership, through Army MARS state leadership on down, and by the really remarkable skills shown by the deployment teams out there on their own,” he said. “I think `awesome’ truly applies to their performance.”

This is written before any final conclusions and statistics could be gathered on stations activated and messages handled. Nevertheless the experience was already being put to work in the preparing for Tropical Storm Hannah and as operations orders were being drawn up for Ike.

Army MARS capacity for deployment had been put to the test, now it would be staying power.

Geography more or less thrust the mantle of tactical leadership on Jim Hamilton, (AAA9RD/K4QDF), of Orlando, FL, the director of Army MARS Region Four which covers the southeast from North Carolina to Mississippi. He’s a retired U.S. Army aviator and commercial airline pilot, now a Florida civil servant.

Hamilton’s partner in organizing operations is Army MARS Region Six Director Ken Winkler (KA5ARU/AAA6RD)of Tomball TX, whose coastal territory runs from Louisiana to the Mexico border. Together they coordinated with Navy-Marine Corps and Air Force MARS region leadership in sorting out frequency assignments and net operation times.

One evidence of interoperability, or what Chief Carter calls jointness: Region 4’s Emergency Response Team 1, four members led by former region director Paul Drothler (WO4U/AAV4DJ from Rossville TN, staged to Alexandria LA in neighboring Region 6 supporting the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief evacuee operation.

Region 6 meanwhile dispatched four teams with Texas National Guard units that set up refueling stations for the fleets of buses carrying evacuees to inland Texas points (that was a Katrina lesson learned.) A fifth team operated within the state mobile command center at Bryan, outside the Texas capital of Austin.

There was jointness, too, with the regular ham radio community. Cliff Segar KD4GT, a member of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, joined Drothler’s team 1 headed for Alexandria.

In an extraordinary demonstration of WinLink’s versatility, Segar’s MARS membership application was transmitted on the run by mobile radio to Ft Huachuca, AZ. Army MARS administrator Martha Smith AAA9M promptly WinLinked back his training call letters AAR4IB/T. “He is gaining skills by the minute,” Team 1 responded. “He will likely have most of his basic training done by the time he gets home.”

(Segar’s home, by the way, overlooks I-40 near Rockwood TN and is widely known for hosting a big billboard that proclaims: “Amateur Radio Works. www.emergency-radio.org.”)

After a long day of severe storms and heavy rain en route, Paul Drothler’s Team 1 carried off another deployment feat on arrival in Alexandria. He reported in to Operations Chief Hays at Ft Huachuca via a phone patch established by Pat Lane AAA9EC in Memphis.

Since the inception of MARS in radio’s early days, its mission has been preparing and providing backup communication for military and civil agencies when natural or manmade calamity knocks out normal channels. Licensed radio amateurs provide their time and equipment at no cost to government. The Defense Department oversees their rigorous training and allocates special military frequencies.

Army MARS, a unit of the Army’s Network Enterprise Technology Command/9th SC (A) at Ft Huachuca, counts some 2,800 members currently. The other two branches swell the total membership to roughly 5,000 amateurs spread across the country, available virtually anywhere if needed. Active-duty service members are eligible, too, and a number operate these days from Iraq and Afghanistan as well as Europe and the Pacific.

From the Korean War to Desert Storm MARS was mostly known for the tens of thousands of free “MARSgrams” and phone patches it provided between service members in combat and their families back home. E-mail and cell phones are ascendant now, but the free MARSgram service is still available at www.mymars.org.

Two things are new to the MARS of 2008. One is the belated awareness among newly-reorganized federal agencies just how well-prepared Army MARS was to assist them. Chief Carter’s determined public awareness campaign took care of that after he volunteered for the MARS command in late 2006. The other is the WinLink digital messaging system, which makes short-wave radio communication as accessible as conventional e-mail.

WinLink, a non-commercial software application developed by hams, came to MARS three years ago under the leadership of MARS Operations Chief Grant Hays (WB6OTS/AAA9O) and Steve Waterman (K4CJX/AAA9AC), one of the developers and now Army MARS automation coordinator on the Chief’s special staff.

Early on the Transportation Security Administration turned to the Army MARS system for backing up communications at major airports. And when Hurricane Dolly blustered toward shore last month, key airports in Florida, Georgia and Alabama had WinLink stations up and running with operators trained by Army MARS. Other emergency agencies are in the process of following TSA’s lead.

Another lesson put to good use was region director Hamilton’s decision spinning off actual command of net operations. He delegated that responsibility to Georgia state director Larry Lowe AAA4GA and his crew of experienced net controllers. That freed Hamilton and the region 4 staff to concentrate on overall coordination and long-range planning. The latter was quickly becoming urgent as tropical storm activity ballooned in mid-week, with Florida a likely target. Again.

In sprawling, storm-prone Region 6–Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico–Texas state director Dave Martin (AAA6TX/K5YFO) answered the call from the Texas Military Forces to support the pre-landfall evacuation effort, then oversaw the unified MARS response as Gustav’s dying gasps drenched northern Louisiana, Louisiana and Arkansas .

At Ft Polk in western Louisiana two MARS trainees–the father-son team of Robert (AAR6DP-T / WB5JZP) and Terry (AAR6DQ-T / W5MTP) Partigianoni--deployed to the Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital which was expected to be in the hurricane’s eye. A third Partigianoni, Robert’s wife Joan (AAR6DO-T / KA2BRS), took over the permanently-installed MARS station in the Ft Polk Joint Readiness Training Center HQ, AAR6UAB.

The Partigianonis at the hospital established two stations, one inside handy to the hospital EOC with VHF Telpac connectivity, the other outside in an RV complete with HF antennas, emergency power and access to the WinLink system as well as MARS HF nets. Their innovative intranet getup processed 27 messages in addition to linking the hospital with the Vernon Parish (county) EOC.

At the JRTC HQ EOC, Joan reported processing 15 messages. “The command was very pleased with the operation and said to pass on their thanks,” she said. “MARS net controls did an excellent job on the nets to keep traffic rolling smoothly.”

Robert Partigianoni said the outside station easily weathered 50 mph gusts at Gustav’s height but did lose commercial power at one point. Fortunately, a late course change sent the storm’s center to the east.

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National Guard Troops drill ahead of Gustav

National Guard troops drill ahead of Gustav
KVUE News, Austin
Texas Governor Rick Perry issued a disaster declaration in advance of Gustav’s landfall. In Austin, National Guard troops were practicing for possible rescue situations.

Texas makes preparations in case Gustav strikes

Texas makes preparations in case Gustav strikes 
By JUAN A. LOZANO Associated Press Writer 
BEAUMONT, Texas — The possibility of Tropical Storm Gustav slamming into Texas as a powerful hurricane put the state and residents on alert Thursday as the deadly storm continued a path toward the Gulf of Mexico.

Gov. Rick Perry issued a disaster declaration for 61 counties in case Gustav arrives early next week along the coast, where some people Thursday were already filling up their gas tanks and stocking up on water and supplies.

Forecasters say the tropical storm could make landfall Tuesday anywhere from Texas to the Florida Panhandle. With top sustained winds just below hurricane strength, Gustav was projected to become a major Category 3 hurricane upon entering the warm and deep Gulf waters.

Authorities say Gustav has killed 67 people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

"I urge Texans along the coast to monitor this storm closely, heed warnings from their local leaders, and take necessary precautions to protect their families, homes and businesses," Perry said.

Hotels in East Texas filled up fast as Gulf Coast residents made plans to head north. Tourism officials in Tyler said that most of the East Texas city’s 2,200 hotel rooms are booked for the coming weekend and beyond.

"Flooded — the phone has not stopped ringing since yesterday," said Patty Boaz, a front desk clerk for America’s Best Value Inn and Suites in Tyler. "We’re getting bombarded."

Gustav’s possible path toward Texas caused Perry to suspend his planned trip to the Republican National Convention in Minnesota. He activated numerous state resources, including putting up to 5,000 members of the Texas National Guard on standby.

The Texas Department of Transportation used electronic signs along the highway to urge motorists to fuel up their vehicles.

In Beaumont, which bore the brunt of Rita when the Category 3 hurricane landed in 2005, all eight pumps at a gas station were busy Thursday afternoon with drivers reluctant to wait until the last minute to fill up.

"I’m more passive right now," said John Fisher, 45, a retired store manager filling up his car at the crowded station. "I’m going to wait and see what happens with the storm."

At a Home Depot, people were stacking up on water, plastic, gasoline cans and plywood.

Hal Miller, 50, bought five sheets of plywood to help board up his daughter’s home in Mont Belvieu although he wasn’t sure her house would be in the path of the storm.

"For her peace of mind, I’m going to board up her windows," Miller said.

In Houston, officials were monitoring the hurricane and had begun numerous preparations for the storm, said Joe Stinebaker, a spokesman for Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

With Hurricane Katrina three years ago, Houston’s Astrodome had sheltered 25,000 of the estimated 250,000 evacuees who came to Texas from Louisiana.

Louisiana, Texas and Harris County officials have consulted and any evacuees would be moved inland rather than to Harris County, Stinebaker said.

He said it wouldn’t make sense to move people to a hurricane zone. Tropical Storm Hanna, which was named Thursday morning, is trailing Gustav’s path, and he said it would be disastrous if the storm followed evacuees to the Houston area.

At a Beaumont grocery store, Janice Espree, a homemaker, had three 24-packs of bottled water in her shopping cart, as well as some fruit.

She said she was just buying extra supplies in case the storm comes her way.

"I think most people here are prepared and are ready to leave if they have to, but some people, with the high gas prices, might have to ride the storm out," Espree said.

Federal Government Steps up preparations for Gustav

Federal Government Steps Up Preparations For Gustav
Release Date: August 27, 2008 
FEMAWASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is coordinating plans and preparatory activities of numerous federal agencies in close communication with state, tribal and local officials as Tropical Storm Gustav threatens to return to hurricane strength prior to impacting Gulf Coast states. All residents in the region are encouraged to make personal preparations. Information is available at www.Ready.gov on how families and individuals can best prepare before the storm.

FEMA and its federal partners are in close communications with states along its potential path in order to review plans, pre-station assets and personnel, and respond to any request for assistance. FEMA’s work with states using a Gap Analysis tool to determine in advance of storms where federal assistance is most likely to be needed has helped federal and state agencies to develop pre-scripted mission assignments and other contingency plans to help improve response and recovery efforts.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry puts Republican Convention Plans on hold

Texas Gov. Rick Perry puts Republican Convention plans on hold
By CHRISTY HOPPE / The Dallas Morning News 
Map of Storm PathGov. Rick Perry has suspended his plans to attend the Republican National Convention next week in St. Paul because of the potential problems that could be caused by the looming Tropical Storm Gustav, which is expected to grow into a hurricane later today.

The governor was to host the Monday kick-off breakfast of the Texas delegation, as well as a prayer meeting. He also had a prime speaking spot on the convention scheduled.

If Gustav diminishes or makes land-fall outside of Texas, the governor could still resume his political schedule.

Meanwhile, state preparations are underway to meet the potential destruction of Gustav. The governor has issued a disaster declaration for 61 Texas counties to allow emergency evacuations and national guard deployments, if they become necessary.

All Gulf States are in the projected path of the storm, which is expected to strengthen into a hurricane as it reaches the warmer Gulf of Mexico waters, according to the National Weather Service.