WESTFIELD, Mass. -- As the forecast of Hurricane Irene became clear and Massachusetts would certainly be in her path, the Massachusetts National Guard began mobilizing and preparing to support the commonwealth as it braced for localized disasters.
113 men and women from the 104th Fighter Wing joined nearly 1,300 Mass. National Guard members called to duty from throughout the state, all tasked to provide support to the community. The Guard was asked to participate in the state-wide relief efforts; supporting communities affected by the storm.
The Fighter Wing, stationed at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield provided very specialized capabilities to the state. They assembled Command, Control and Communication teams, (POD) Point of Distribution teams, (RAT) Rapid Assistance teams, Public Affairs teams, and (CERFP) Chemical Biologic Radiological Nuclear Enhanced Response teams; all focused toward assisting the commonwealth as they responded to Hurricane Irene.
As the hurricane was down-graded to a tropical storm, the National Guard was placed on state-active duty to support the governor as he and his emergency response force collaborated with the Massachusetts Emergency Management and Federal Emergency Management Agencies. The Guard has developed strong working relationships with these agencies during recent natural disasters. The Massachusetts National Guard is a critical part of the team, as seen during recent tornados in Western Mass. and the spring floods in Eastern Mass. The collaboration is engrained, which allows for synergy during emergencies like Irene.
“We train together,” said Master. Sgt. Chris McCrary, the 104th Fighter Wing Emergency Manager. “These partnerships are really what make the Guard so unique. We live in these communities, and we have developed strong working relationships over the years.”
The dynamic nature of the Guard was clearly seen as they interacted with support agencies from throughout the state, and even agencies across state lines. The mission of providing support is universal in the Guard. In one instance, the Massachusetts Air Guard assembled with a team from the Vermont National Guard in Shelburne Falls Mass. The Vermont Guard/186 BSB, had to travel through Massachusetts in order to reach destinations in Western Vermont near the Massachusetts boarder. Some Vermont towns were completely water-locked and there was no intrastate access. The team joined forces with the Mass. Air Guard who was assisting homeowners in Shelburne; together they traversed through 17 towns on washed-out roads, helping community- members of both Massachusetts and Vermont.
“Have you noticed how people have been just stopping what they’ve been doing, turning around, looking straight at us, and then giving us a big grin and a thumbs-up or a salute when we drive by? Sure, it took us more than 20 hours to find a way to get here, but they don’t know that,” said Sgt. Richard Hawkin’s from the Vermont Guard. “It’s about letting people who have been cut off from nearly everything, and who have lost a lot, know they have not been forgotten and that the Guard cares about them. It gives them hope. Vermont, Massachusetts, it doesn’t matter, we are all here to help.”
Air Guard members from the 104th Fighter Wing also augmented MEMA in Rapid Assistance Teams. The teams worked with local town officials in affected areas of Western Mass., to provide damage assessments after the storm. In total the Air Guard assisted in 7 of the 14 teams throughout the commonwealth.
“We worked alongside member of MEMA and FEMA,” said Master Sgt. Alan Smith, a member of the 104th Fighter Wing Maintenance Group. “We would assess the damage to roadways and effected infrastructure, providing assistance in any way we could.”
The Massachusetts National Guard will continue to work with the communities affected by the storm; providing assistance and support to the communities affected by the hurricane.