As Hurricane Sandy barrels toward the East Coast, Army and Air National Guard units from more than a half-dozen states have mobilized, including one from as far away as California.
Weather trackers predict Sandy will come ashore at full force in New Jersey, specifically at Point Pleasant at 6 p.m. eastern Monday. Storm surge flooding has started all along the coast between North Carolina and Massachusetts.
States of emergency had been declared in Virginia, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.
More than 1,900 guardsmen were on duty as of 1 p.m. on Monday assisting civil authorities in New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, Delaware, Connecticut, Maryland and New Jersey, according to the National Guard Bureau in Washington.
In all, more than 61,000 Army and Air National Guard troops are available if needed.
"The National Guard is the hometown team," Army Staff Sgt. Wayne Woolley of the New Jersey National Guard said in a statement released by the bureau. "Soldiers and airmen live in these communities, and they are eager to help and want to keep their fellow citizens safe."
Bases and seaports along the East Coast have either transferred aircraft to other bases farther inland or sailed ships into the Atlantic Ocean over the weekend to protect them from storm damage.
The Navy put 24 ships to sea from Naval Station Norfolk and Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, including the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman.
Air Force pilots flew C-17 Globemaster IIIs and KC-10 Extenders from the 305th Air Mobility Wing out of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., ahead of the storm. The C-17s went to Joint Base Charleston, S.C., and MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. The KC-10s flew to Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D.
The Delaware Air Guard has also flown all flyable equipment out of the storm's path over the weekend evacuating most aircraft from Dover Air Force Base, Del. In New Jersey, about 150 airmen with the 108th Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst were deployed around the state to provide civil authorities with support.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has appointed "dual status" commanders to command both federal and state National Guard forces in those affected states, the Pentagon said in a statement Monday. The special authority enables commanders to integrate defense support operations and capabilities effectively when governors request them.
Panetta is ready to agree quickly to similar requests from other states, the statement said.
On Saturday, the Virginia Army Guard deployed more than 500 personnel along parts of the Eastern Shore, Hampton Roads and the I-95 corridor from Richmond to Fredericksburg to Northern Virginia. Beginning Sunday it began placing additional personnel along the I-81/I-66 corridor from Woodstock to Winchester to Leesburg, officials with the state guard announced.
The Virginia forces are organized into multi-function response packages equipped with medium tactical trucks, Humvees and troops trained and equipped as chain saw teams capable of performing high water transport, debris reduction and reconnaissance patrols, the guard said.
Meanwhile, U.S. Northern Command has put aviation assets such as light- and medium-lift helicopters and rescue teams on 24-hour status to prepare to deploy in response to the storm. NorthCom also is providing military installations for FEMA to use in its response operations, according to the Pentagon.
Nurses and medical technicians with the 142nd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron in Delaware were put on standby. The state's Army National Guard has redeployed its helicopters out of Sandy's path, and will fly them back as needed when the storm passes, officials said.
From California, more than 100 Air National Guardsmen of the 129th Rescue Wing were directed to head east to be ready for hurricane rescue efforts.
A spokesman for the state's Air Guard said two MC-130P Combat Shadows, two HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopters and two Guardian Angel Pararescue teams would be en route on Monday and be on hand for post-hurricane rescue operations.
Guard officials did not say where the aircraft would be located on the East Coast. National weather reports indicate that the highest storm surge will occur along Long Island Sound and New York Harbor with Monday evening's high tide. That is also when surge flooding is expected to peak along the Jersey Shore and the southern New England coastline.
Reports from The Weather Channel on Monday afternoon indicated the peak tide levels could exceed previous records in some areas.
President Barack Obama cancelled a campaign stop in Florida and returned to Washington this afternoon to be briefed in the White House Situation Room on the latest hurricane predictions and the federal response.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way back to Washington that Obama would meet via video teleconference with the heads of the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, FEMA Administrator William Fugate, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Energy Secretary Steven Chu.