Story by: Airman 1st Class Ashleigh Pavelek
WALTERBORO, S.C. – Part exercise, part preparing for the next storm, Soldiers from the South Carolina Army National Guard dug deep through mud and trenches to fill dump trucks with dirt to refurbish the roads in the event of a washout after a hurricane.
Partnering with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the Soldiers from the 172nd Engineer Battalion, hauled five 20-ton trucks containing more than 400 cubic yards of much-needed fill dirt reserved for the reconstruction of connecting highways from the mainland to Bear Island.
“It’s pretty neat working with the community and showing people what we can do, and what we are capable of doing,” said Staff Sgt. Kevin Hicklin, a heavy equipment operator assigned to the 1782nd Engineer Platoon. “It’s a win-win for the National Guard to show the people what we are capable of and what we can get done in a short amount of time.”
The Soldiers of the 1782nd are just a few of the more than 2,000 National Guard members participating in Vigilant Guard from South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia along with other state and local agencies. The exercise is taking place in multiple counties across the state March 3-12, and simulates a Category 4 hurricane striking the coast. During Vigilant Guard, the National Guard is supporting county and state emergency management first responders. The 1782nd’s mission to Bear Island was a crucial inter-agency operation between the South Carolina National Guard and SC DNR.
“We can execute training that further benefit our unit in support of the state mission, which is disaster response, and our federal mission for active duty army,” said 1st Lt. Jason Dunnagan, commander of the 172nd Haul Platoon. “Once the unit gets to the drop location, they are basically stock piling material, and building up resources, so in the event that the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources or the SCNG has to come back out after a storm to prepare and develop roadways for civilian emergency traffic.”
The March 7 real-world mission was an opportunity for the National Guard to train and still provide vital dirt in the event first responders may need to evacuate people and rebuild roads after a storm.
“We are setting them up for when storms hit, so they are fully prepared for any type of severe weather,” Hicklin, a Rock Hill native, said. “It shows people they can count on us.”