Guard Preparing Tens of Thousands More Troops for Hurricane Relief

HH-60G Pave Hawks, assigned to the 41st Rescue squadron, park at NAS Fort Worth JRB, Texas, Aug. 26, 2017. Aircraft and personnel from the 347th Rescue Group mobilized to NAS Fort Worth to assist in potential rescue efforts after Hurricane Harvey made landfall. The 347th RQG are in support of Air Forces Northern as part of Northern Command's support of FEMA's disaster response efforts. USAF photo by TSgt. Zachary Wolf.

The National Guard is posturing up to 30,000 Guardsmen to deploy to the Houston region to help in recovery efforts following record rainfall and flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, with even more Active Duty troops available if necessary.

While the additional help has not been requested yet, the National Guard is “anticipating” what will be required in both the near- and long-term response to the storm, said Air Force Maj. Gen. James Witham, the director of domestic operations with the National Guard Bureau. This includes a priority on personnel rescue, from both rotary wing and “high profile” vehicles that can drive in flooded areas. This could be followed by troops to help with engineering, route clearance, and security.

“Our response to this hurricane has been different than anything we’ve experienced before,” Witham said during a Pentagon briefing Tuesday. “And we expect it to be much longer in terms of the response phase than we would normally see during a hurricane, just due to the nature of the storm dumping historic, if not record, amounts of rainfall in southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana.”

Thousands of Texas National Guard troops are already assisting in rescue operations, with more expected after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott activated the state’s entire National Guard force.

Heavy rain continued Tuesday as floodwaters continued to climb, and the storm began to turn toward Louisiana where additional National Guard support could be required. Four hundred Guardsmen are on state Active Duty there currently, Witham said. Weather forecasts predict Harvey will hit the area near Barksdale AFB, La., on Thursday morning. Base officials told Air Force Magazine they are expecting heavy rains, but there are no plans at this time to relocate Barksdale’s B-52s.

The tens of thousands of National Guard forces are ready to be called upon, though the heavy rains and flooded areas have slowed the transit of some service members and materiel. As the weather clears, additional air assets will likely come into the region.

“This will be a long-term effort,” Witham said.

There are 30 Guard helicopters currently flying to help with the response and rescues, with another 24 more requested and “en route to Texas today,” Witham said. Eventually, up to 100 helicopters could be used. So far, there have been about 300 hoist rescues, Witham said.

Active D?uty Air Force pararescue crews, along with Air National Guard and Reserve search and rescue units, are standing by to help with hoist personnel recovery.

Also as the weather clears, Guard surveillance aircraft, such as RC-26 Metroliners, will likely be used, Witham said.

With the airspace in the Houston area becoming so congested, Witham urged anyone with a private drone to avoid flying in the area. “The potential for a drone impact is a big deal,” he said