ROSWELL, N.M. — The 717th Brigade Support Battalion based here is continuing to help its city through winter storm Goliath, which began Dec. 26. The battalion is helping to aid local emergency services and perform tasks to help get life back to normal for area residents.
Staff Sgt. Anthony Munoz, noncommissioned officer in charge of the battalion's tactical operations center, described its role in the emergency as an overflow for the local emergency services to help alleviate their workload.
"Any of the emergency services they could not handle shifted to us and we would take on what we could handle with our resources and pass back to them what we didn't have the appropriate resources to address," Munoz said.
One of the main tasks the 717th covered was transportation to Fresenius Medical Center for patients who require dialysis to live. This service was vital to the community because the local medical system could not properly care for dialysis patients.
Brooke Linthicun, Eastern New Mexico Medical Center marketing director, explained that an influx of dialysis patients to its facility would have overwhelmed its ability to treat them. She said that it does not have the medical equipment Fresenius Medical Center possesses and would have to transfer any dialysis patients to medical facilities outside of Roswell.
Over the course of three days from Dec. 29-31, the 717th averaged about 25 dialysis patient transports to Fresenius Medical Center. Soldiers, such as Pfc. Nestor Renteria - an infantry Soldier in the Headquarters and Headquarters Company 1- 200th Infantry Battalion based in Las Cruces - transported dialysis patients using a high-mobility, multi-purposed, wheeled-vehicle, or HMMWV. He said his passengers enjoyed riding in the vehicles because it was a completely different experience for them.
"What I've enjoyed the most is seeing the reactions from the senior citizens and all veterans we've been helping," Renteria said. "Just seeing a smile on their face and them knowing that they're in safe hands and their life isn't at risk anymore."
In addition to helping dialysis patients, the 717th also assisted the residents of Roswell by performing tasks like clearing out snow from the parking lot of the two locations of Little Lambs Daycare Center, so parents could return to work, Munoz said.
The 717th helped the local fire department deliver life saving medications to residents who were trapped in their homes. Munoz said 717th Soldiers helped fire department personnel clear snow from the homes of residents, who were in need of medication.
Along with taking care of Roswell, the 717th was also tracking activity in Hobbs and Clovis. Soldiers in these cities were mainly clearing roads and helping drivers get their vehicles unstuck.
Maj. Randall Bates, battalion administrative officer, said the Soldiers had been working hard maintaining the long hours of dialysis treatment schedule, which required them to be up by 4:30 a.m. and finish the day by 8:30 p.m. Fresenius Medical Center was closed on New Year's Day and Bates foresees the dialysis mission to wind down by Jan. 4 - due the road clearing efforts and the snow melting away - allowing patients and staff to arrive to the dialysis center on their own.
Bates said the most difficult part of this mission was getting a critical mass of Soldiers back to the Roswell Readiness Center to have the manpower to accomplish large-scale change.
"The biggest issue we had was our initial response because no one could get out of their driveways. We spent two days just trying to get enough guys on the ground to do the job," Bates said.
Bates and another Soldier managed to get to work using snowshoes and bike trails, but they soon found the HMMWVs would get stuck in the high snow banks, which surrounded the readiness center, Bates said.
For Bates to get enough Guardsmen to the center, he and the other Soldier had to drive light medium tactical vehicles, or LMTVs, to each Soldier's house to transport them to work. These were the only vehicles, which could make it through the snow drifts, Bates said.
Guardsmen are arriving in Roswell from different parts of the state to help dig out Roswell. Some of the Soldiers are from different units or brigades, but this ad hoc team of Soldiers had been working well together, Bates said.
The 717th has proven to be a life-saving asset in its operation of dialysis patient and medical staff transport. Munoz said simply relieving stress on the already overburdened local emergency services proved to be instrumental in saving lives and getting life back to normal for the residents of Roswell.