Guard Troops Respond To Snowstorm Across 12 States

An honor guard watches over the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery during Winter Storm Jonas on Jan. 23. By noon of that day, the National Guard had more than 2,000 troops helping 12 states cope with the snow emergency. (Army photo)
An honor guard watches over the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery during Winter Storm Jonas on Jan. 23. By noon of that day, the National Guard had more than 2,000 troops helping 12 states cope with the snow emergency. (Army photo)

In Pennsylvania, National Guard troops were called on Saturday to rescue hundreds of motorists stranded by Winter Storm Jonas on the Pennsylvania Turnpike as part of the Guard's mobilization by governors across the mid-Atlantic region.

In Virginia, Guard troops were using their Humvees to get state troopers where they couldn't go in their own vehicles. In Kentucky, National Guard wreckers were hauling abandoned cars off Interstate 75.

The activated Guard troops and other first responders from Georgia to southern Connecticut were battling snow drifts up to four feet, record coastal flooding, and winds of 70 mph in some areas.

As of midday Saturday, Maj. Gen. James C. Witham, director of Domestic Operations and Force Development (J3/7) for the National Guard Bureau, said at least 2,300 Guard troops had been activated and the number could go up to 3,000 as snow continued to fall in the storm that was affecting 80 million people in a quarter of the US.

Witham did not have complete state-by-state figures on the numbers of Guard soldiers and airmen activated but said 500 each had been activated by Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Sixty were also assisting local responders in the District of Columbia and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., had 600 Guard troops on standby in New York.

Before the storm hit, Army Col. Thomas L. Morgan III, director of joint operations for the Virginia Guard, said potential missions for his troop included transportation through heavy snow, downed tree removal, debris reduction and distribution of food, water and other supplies.

"In order to be able to respond rapidly when needed, we will get our personnel in place at key locations before the severe weather hits," Morgan said.

Witham said the storm was "more widespread than we originally anticipated," but the Guard had been postured to respond by putting units on alert beforehand.

Witham said he expected the number of guard troops activated to increase as the storm shifted northward to New Jersey and New York. Governors in 12 states and Mayor Muriel Bowser of the District of Columbia had already declared states of emergency.

In the District, Metro bus and subway lines were shut down through the weekend and in New York, Cuomo shut down the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North commuter lines and subways in New York City were not operating above ground.

Thus far, Witham said that the Guard has not received any Title 10 requests to federalize Guard troops, and the actions already underway were in support of state adjutant generals and governors.

Additional Guard soldiers and airmen were expected to go on duty through Saturday night and "possibly across next week" as states go into recovery mode, Witham said. Guard vehicles were especially useful in snowstorms, simply because they are heavier than their civilian counterparts, Witham said.

"That's one of the one of the unique capabilities of the Guard," Witham said. "It's extremely heavy equipment that's very adept in terms of domestic response. In a blizzard, heavy trucks and graders are very good in getting through where other state and local authorities (vehicles) might not be able to get through."

Witham said he had yet to receive any reports of his own people being stranded in the snowdrifts "but I'm sure it's possible."

Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com

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