The “Always Ready, Ready Team”: North Carolina National Guard during Florence

forklift loading pallet of bottled water onto a National Guard helicopter
Thursday, November 8, 2018 - 1:58pm
Storm Response Series: While North Carolina braced for Hurricane Florence, numerous NC Public Safety agencies joined in the storm preparations, response and recovery. Today's blog provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the efforts of the National Guard.

Hurricane Florence slammed into the Carolina coast Sept. 14 as a Category 1 storm, then crawled its way out of the state.  

In fact, Florence was quickly downgraded to a tropical storm and moved slow enough - about 5 miles per hour - that someone could have jogged along in the eye of the storm, staying relatively dry. 

The day after Florence’s arrival, North Carolina began receiving Army National Guard aircraft and crews from all over the country to help support recovery efforts. 

In addition to North Carolina National Guard’s (NCNG) resources, 13 states sent helicopters, crews, mechanics and personnel to join in the more than 3,000 N.C. Guardsmen who were activated earlier in preparation for the massive storm. 

“A powerful, damaging hurricane is hours away from our coast,” said N.C. Governor Roy Cooper during a press conference where he announced the mobilization of additional National Guard troops ahead of Florence’s landfall as he urged citizens to evacuate.

The additional aviation support more than tripled the capabilities of the NCNG making it possible to fly 346 missions, rescue approximately 441 people, 127 animals and move more than 685,000 pounds of supplies and equipment. Meanwhile, on the ground, the Guard rescued more than 800 people using high-water vehicles, and delivered truckloads of needed supplies to impacted areas.

N.C. Guardsmen are not strangers to State Active Duty activations: hurricanes and winter storms are common occurrences in the state. 

Take Sgt. Lauren Hawkins, for example. As a medic with Headquarters Company 105th Engineer Battalion, Hurricane Florence was her fourth mobilization in support of state side operations. 

“I really like doing state active duty. It’s one of the things that you sign up to do, helping out your community, and it’s something in which the community actually sees the National Guard in action,” said Hawkins. “When the community sees us putting forth the effort to help them, even if we have the same problems going on back home, that gives us a sense of accomplishment, as well.”

Staging early for an impending hurricane is a very effective way to get response teams to locations where they will be needed immediately following the storm.

Hawkins said that having the Soldiers get to the coast, staged and prepared safely with their equipment before the hurricane hit, helped increase our their response time.

Flooding from Florence continued for weeks. On the evening of Sept. 20, a group of National Guard and Coast Guard helicopters and their crews, rescued more than 102 people and 33 pets from Kelly, N.C. as severe flooding hit the small town. The aviators flew out of Raleigh and Salisbury using night-vision goggles throughout the rescue.

“[When deployed] Overseas, I definitely like the aspects of helping others,” said Sgt. Jonathan Nielsen a flight engineer with the Minnesota National Guard whose Chinook helped rescue people from Kelly, N.C. “But, that feel good feeling of helping your fellow Americans is definitely the best.”

Nine days after Hurricane Florence hit, most of the out of state aviation assets had returned home and Guardsmen were no longer on State Active Duty. Yet, as their slogan says: they are always ready should they receive the call again.

SSG. Mary Junell, NCNG Public Affairs