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National Guard relieves suffering after Hurricane Sandy

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About 7,000 Guard members are helping people who are living without power while facing low temperatures, and people whose water-ruined possessions are piled at the curb, all while local transportation infrastructure crippled and simply pumping gas can be a day-long chore, in communities worst-hit by Hurricane Sandy.

On Saturday, Guard members started supporting other state and federal agencies easing gasoline distribution challenges in New York. Guard members also were providing food, water, presence patrols and transportation, going from house-to-house on Staten Island conducting wellness checks and running pumps and generators.

The bulk of the Guard members -- more than 4,000 -- are focused on the two worst-hit states, New Jersey and New York.

"The National Guard takes its missions from the governor, and they're supporting the first responders, so when the capabilities of the first responders have been exceeded, then the National Guard is called in to support," said Gen. Frank Grass, the chief of the National Guard Bureau.

The National Guard has hundreds of thousands of troops available nationwide and a plethora of capabilities a phone call away.

"We'll tailor those to meet the need, based on what the city and the state require," Grass said.

"More than 6,000 Army National Guard Soldiers are part of the massive relief effort across the entire region," said Lt. Gen. William E. Ingram Jr., the director of the Army National Guard. "Our Soldiers are concentrated in communities hardest hit by the cold, flooding and power outages."

"We're ramping up our future operations as well," Ingram said. "About a thousand additional Soldiers from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Delaware are on their way to help out with critical transportation, security and supply distribution efforts in New York and New Jersey."

Grass saw the challenges New Jersey and New York residents face first-hand during a frenetic eight-hour visit to assess damage and needs and thank troops on Friday.

"New Jersey is in consequence management, recovering," he said. "Lots and lots of contract capability, construction capability. Still long lines in some places as they recover and at the gas stations."

As Grass conducted a damage-assessment survey from a National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter over New York City and its environs on Friday, he saw houses off their foundations, piles of soaked possessions including mattresses dragged to the curb, sand-covered roadways from shore-to-shore of narrow barrier islands. As darkness fell, chunks of the metropolis lay in darkness and gas stations were easy to identify by the police lights flashing outside and the miles-long lines of tail-lights snaking along approach roads.

"In New York, it's going to be a long haul there," Grass said. "So much damage -- especially the subways. It's going to take a while to get those pumped out. But the city looks like it's ready to roll. It's functioning down there. Some of the outer islands, you could see a lot of damage, and it's going to take a while to get that cleaned up."

"The National Guard has been called on again when our citizens are in need of help -- neighbors helping neighbors," Maj. Gen. Patrick Murphy, the adjutant general of New York National Guard, said during a visit to Manhattan to assess possible National Guard support to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers efforts to de-water flooded road and subway tunnels.

"These are Soldiers that have trained for combat but serve in domestic operations," Murphy said. "They've done just incredible work in the area of security, logistics distribution and working with law enforcement and their local partners. Our Soldiers and Airmen are true professionals and they want to help the citizens that they live with every day, their neighbors."

When he wasn't talking with troops on the ground Friday, Grass was engaged in a steady stream of phone consultations with federal, state and local officials that left no time for even a food break. Returning to the Pentagon late Friday, his weekend continued with the steady stream of White House, secretary of defense, Federal Emergency Management Agency and other meetings that started as the storm approached more than a week ago.

"I saw today many, many Soldiers and Airmen who have deployed overseas," Grass said as he returned to the Pentagon late Friday. "You couldn't ask for a better team to be ready to support the citizens and every one of those Soldiers and Airmen out there I saw today was very happy to do the mission they are doing."

Residents were returning Guard members' enthusiasm for the domestic mission with startling displays of appreciation.

"The level of appreciation for the Soldiers and the Airmen is just unprecedented," said Command Sgt. Maj. Jerome Jenkins, the senior enlisted leader of the New Jersey Army National Guard. "Astounding, great reaction, because they know that we're here to help. When they see the Guard, they know that we're here to help. The Guard is homegrown, and they're here to help."

Search and rescue, sheltering, debris removal, food and water distribution, power generation support, door-to-door wellness checks, damage surveys and working with local authorities to maintain civil order are among New Jersey Guard members' missions, he said.

"It's been a great opportunity for us as Guard members to show our neighbors, the citizens of New Jersey what they're paying for," said Air Force Command Chief Master Sgt. Vincent Morton, the senior enlisted leader of the New Jersey Air National Guard. "We bring a calming effect. Outside the door, the wind is blowing, the tide is coming up, when they see us in uniform, it brings that calming effect.

"We get an opportunity to serve right here in the State of New Jersey. It's our neighbors. It's very rewarding. You go overseas, you serve your country -- but it's even more rewarding when you get back and you serve your neighbors. The Air National Guard is a key piece when there's a state emergency, we're always easy to get to, and we bring a huge skill set to the fight."

Guard members continued to provide support in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia.

Operations in those states included route clearance, mounted presence patrols, commodities distribution, power generation support, sand and debris clearance, snow clearance, traffic control, search and rescue and health and welfare checks on residents in remote areas, according to the National Guard Coordination Center in Arlington, Va.

States outside the affected area were contributing. For the first time, a C-27J Spartan military transport aircraft from the Ohio National Guard was supporting a domestic mission by transporting Soldiers and vehicles headed to New York to support relief efforts there.

Article by Sgt. 1st Class Jim Greenhill, National Guard Bureau