Story by Sgt. 1st Class Kimberly Calkins
CHARLESTON, S.C. – The Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC), 218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (MEB), South Carolina Army National Guard was the command and control cell of the Southern Conglomerate of the state of South Carolina during the residual storms caused by Hurricane Irma, September 11, 2017.
One of the missions of the 218th MEB was to provide high-water rescue vehicles as requested by the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) through the Joint Operations Center (JOC) in Columbia.
“I vet the requests before they go to the JOC in Columbia,” said Master Sgt. Cleveland Lewis, the liaison officer for Charleston EOC. “I received about 60 to 70 requests over the past three days.”
Those requests varied from escorting first responders to rescue families in flooded areas to delivering medical personnel to hospitals in downtown Charleston using a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle (LMTV), a 2.5-ton payload capacity vehicle, which is normally used for carrying military personnel and cargo.
One essential mission tasked to HHC, 218th MEB was to transport medical personnel to Roper Hospital. Six Soldiers in three LMTVs picked up 38 nurses at a staging area in a downtown parking lot before driving through the flooded waters of Calhoun Street to the hospital.
“We thought the water would be out of here by 6 o’clock but it wasn’t,” said Carolyn Donohue, Vice President of Nursing and incident commander for three Roper hospitals. “I talked to Master Sgt. Lewis and he knew the area enough to know where my employees could get in to downtown.”
The 108th Chemical Company (CHEM CO), located in North Charleston, also transported approximately 65 medical personnel to Roper Hospital, the Medical University of South Carolina, and the Ralph H. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Additionally, the 108th CHEM CO partnered with Fire Station 15 to assist in three family evacuations in downtown Charleston. Two firefighters were transported by the 108th CHEM CO to the end of the peninsula in an LMTV.
“We met other firefighters at the houses downtown, and at one the fire department provided a rubber raft,” said Spc. Hutchens Branham, a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Specialist, assigned to the 108th CHEM CO. “It was nice to help the local community, we don’t usually stay local for missions.”
The firefighters used a rubber raft to escort one family out of their house to the LMTV, which had the capabilities to breach the three to four feet high tidal waters along the Battery and transport the families and firefighters to safety.
The 108th CHEM CO also partnered with Fire Station 19 to do health and welfare checks to the community of Edgewater that is situated between the Stono and Wappoo Creek in James Island, S.C.
“There was massive flooding on the overpass to Edgewater,” said Sgt. Rickie Sturtevant, a team leader with the 108th CHEM CO. “The island itself was not flooded but the current from the river and the flooding made it dangerous.”
The Soldiers transported 12 fire and police personnel to the Edgewater community to check on approximately 70 people who live in the area that had no contact with the mainland.
By the next morning the flood waters had receded and the Soldiers returned to the hospitals to transport the nurses back to their vehicles.
“I had the opportunity to work with great people as a cohesive team,” said Staff Sgt. Adam Cathrall, a fire support sergeant assigned to HHC, 218th MEB. “It was great to be a part of something that had such an impact and contribution to the local community,”