SC, UNITED STATES
Story by Staff Sgt. Jerry Boffen
As the days passed leading up to Florence’s landfall, South Carolina National Guard Soldiers and Airmen began working side by side with officials from local law enforcement, government officials and other various agencies to anticipate and prepare for the needs of the population. Among the activities were missions like assisting law enforcement with evacuation plans and traffic control points. The South Carolina National Guard also provided assistance in the lane reversals on Interstate 26 and U.S. Highway 501, as well as the assessment of flood plains and river levels to identify potential high risk areas for flooding.
While all of these Soldiers and Airmen were on the ground working to provide assistance to their fellow South Carolinians, one vital group of Soldiers and Airmen was working tirelessly behind the scenes to help make all of these missions a reality. These Soldiers and Airmen were the South Carolina National Guard liaison officers.
Within each county and community during a storm like Florence, emergency operations centers are set up to coordinate storm response efforts among multiple agencies, and within each of these ECOs is a SCNG LNO, whose mission is to work alongside county emergency managers and EOC directors to conduct damage assessments, develop action plans and determine what National Guard assets are available and that can be used for recovery operations.
“As the liaisons, you are the heart of this operations,” Maj. Gen. Robert Livingston, Adjutant General of the South Carolina National Guard, said to the LNOs at the start of the mission. “You are the ones that are going to make this a success or not.”
Livingston added that the LNOs must bring in their expertise and experience and use it as a tool to provide advice and guidance to the EOCs as they conduct relief operations. For many of these LNOs, this is not their first time responding to this type of mission. In fact, it is still very fresh in many of their minds. The SCNG was mobilized for storm relief support for Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and again for Tropical Storm Irma in 2017.
“Help them look more than twenty four hours out for their needs,” he said. “Look at the data they’re getting and provide advice.”
“This is all about saving lives, saving property and reducing human suffering,” Livingston added. “The worst thing we can do is fail the people of South Carolina by not providing them resources.”
Once the storm did hit and the impact of it was realized, the SCNG Soldiers and Airmen hit the ground running, helping the people of South Carolina through missions such as traffic control points, route clearance, high water evacuation and rescue, and sand bagging of vital infrastructure such as, highways, sewage pump stations and key government facilities to protect from flooding. The LNOs were instrumental in coordinating SCNG missions in their areas of operations through their respective EOCs.
When Lt. Gen. Timothy Kadavy, Director of the Army National Guard, visited Conway, South Carolina, on Sept. 17, 2018 to survey the storm damage and meet with SCNG troops in the area, he also spoke to the emergency response personnel within the Conway EOC.
“Things happen at the speed of relationships and relationships happen at the speed of trust,” he told them, “so it’s great that you’ve got that trust with your National Guard counterparts. You’re all working together to get things done to help the people of South Carolina.”
One of the LNOs for the mission this storm, 1st Lt. Jose Viteri, a platoon leader with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 118th Infantry Regiment, has been an LNO before and also emphasized the importance of relationships.
“For this storm, I was assigned to be at the EOC in Charleston,” Viteri said, “and I’ve worked as an LNO there before, so overall we’ve already built a great relationship with the EOC. You know, when this mission came up we were able to jump right in and already had that relationship built with our main points of contact at that EOC and really just get to work quickly.”
He added that in his experience, the personnel at the EOCs do a good job of integrating the LNOs and making use of the assets and skills that they can help to provide.
“They really let you become a part of the team,” Viteri said. “They don’t just stick us in the corner. I was in every one of the calls with emergency administrators, mayors and even the governor. They really look to us to advise them on what assets the National Guard has and how we can best help them accomplish their mission.”
“They’ll tell us what mission they are trying to accomplish,” he added, “and then we’ll work through them and our higher command to determine what assets we can provide to best accomplish their mission with them.”
Viteri echoed Lt. Gen. Kadavy’s statement about relationships speeding up the process.
“Having us integrated within the EOCs really helps us to expedite the process,” Viteri said. “A lot of times, being on site, we can get information faster than the higher command gets it and so we’re able to let them know what they can expect for requests [for National Guard assistance] coming in from the EOC. That can really help get things done faster and more efficiently.”
As of Sept. 19, 2018, there are approximately 2,900 South Carolina Guards Soldiers 40 Airmen and 100 State Guard on duty as well as support from Pennsylvania and New York and Tennessee National Guard assisting response efforts from the impacts of Hurricane Florence.
The South Carolina’s National Guard is supporting emergency evacuations from areas feeling impacts of flooding from area rivers using LMTVs (high water transport vehicles) and Army Aviation Search and Rescue with the SC Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Teams. To date nearly 200 South Carolinians have been evacuated from rising waters by High Water Transport vehicles.
South Carolina National Guard Engineers are also placing sandbags along U.S. Highway 501 in Conway, South Carolina to ensure roadways remain passable and communities are not cut off on the main route to highly populated Myrtle Beach. To date they have laid nearly three miles of barrier protecting a mile and a half of road with sandbags and flood barriers to keep the road open from flooding.
Most of these missions would not have been possible if not for the behind the scenes work of the LNOs, advising and expediting matters for their EOCs and civilian counterparts. The Soldiers and Airmen of the SCNG, including the LNOs, will continue their response efforts to protect and serve their fellow South Carolinians.