Fighter Jets Evacuated, Guard Activated as Hurricane Nears East Coast

  • South Carolina National Guard Soldiers from the 118th Forward Support Company transfer bulk diesel fuel for distribution in preparation in advance of Hurricane Florence, in North Charleston, South Carolina, September 10, 2018. (South Carolina National Guard/Sgt. Brian Calhoun)
    South Carolina National Guard Soldiers from the 118th Forward Support Company transfer bulk diesel fuel for distribution in preparation in advance of Hurricane Florence, in North Charleston, South Carolina, September 10, 2018. (South Carolina National Guard/Sgt. Brian Calhoun)
  • Airmen from the South Carolina Air National Guard and 169th Fighter Wing, prepare to deploy from McEntire Joint National Guard Base to Bluffton, South Carolina, in advance of Hurricane Florence, September 10, 2018. (U.S. Air National Guard/Master Sgt. Caycee Watson)
    Airmen from the South Carolina Air National Guard and 169th Fighter Wing, prepare to deploy from McEntire Joint National Guard Base to Bluffton, South Carolina, in advance of Hurricane Florence, September 10, 2018. (U.S. Air National Guard/Master Sgt. Caycee Watson)
  • The guided-missile destroyer USS James E. Williams departs Naval Station Norfolk after the announcement of Sortie Condition Alpha ahead of Hurricane Florence, Sept. 10, 2018. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin Wolpert)
    The guided-missile destroyer USS James E. Williams departs Naval Station Norfolk after the announcement of Sortie Condition Alpha ahead of Hurricane Florence, Sept. 10, 2018. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin Wolpert)

U.S. military bases on the Virginia coast have ordered the evacuation of Air Force fighter aircraft and Navy ships in preparation for dangerous weather conditions brought on by the approaching Hurricane Florence.

The governors of South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia have declared a state of emergency and have activated close to 1,000 National Guard personnel to assist emergency management services in areas forecasted to be hit by high winds and flooding from Florence.

Meanwhile, Marine recruits at boot camp in South Carolina may graduate early and without family members present because of the storm.

"Current forecast models indicate that Florence could strike the Carolinas and enter Central Virginia, possibly stalling and dropping more than 20 inches of rain in some areas," a Virginia National Guard news release said.

The Navy's U.S. Fleet Forces Command has ordered all Navy Ships in the Hampton Roads, Virginia area to "set Sortie Condition Alpha." The ships were scheduled to begin leaving the area today to get ahead of Florence, Fleet Forces Command officials said in a release.

"There are nearly 30 ships preparing to get underway from Naval Station Norfolk and Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek as Hurricane Florence is forecasted to bring high winds and rain to the Mid-Atlantic coast. Ships will be directed to areas of the Atlantic where they will be best postured for storm avoidance," the release states.

Some units will not get underway due to maintenance status but will be taking extra precautions to avoid potential damage, officials said. Commanding officers have a number of options such as adding additional mooring and storm lines, dropping the anchor, and disconnecting shore power cables.

Also in Virginia, Col. Jason Hinds, commander of 1st Fighter Wing, has ordered the evacuation of all Air Force Base F-22 Raptor and T-38 Talon aircraft from Joint Base Langley-Eustis to Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base, Ohio, according to a news release from JBLE.

"We have facilities here that can withstand hurricane-level winds, but there's no reason to risk any damage to our F-22 fleet." said Hinds, "We and our associate partner, the Virginia Air National Guard 192nd Wing, will send about 100 personnel to Ohio to support the jet movement. We'll begin flying jets out tomorrow and all wing aircraft are scheduled to arrive at Rickenbacker ANGB by Wednesday."

The 633rd Air Base Wing commander is leading the overall effort to ready JBLE for Hurricane Florence.

"It's been a couple years since we've had a really big weather event," said Col. Sean Tyler, 633rd ABW commander.

"Our mission is to provide support for the operational units assigned to JBLE. ... Our civil engineer and emergency management teams are ready and prepared to mitigate the effects of Hurricane Florence. They are already executing protective measures to secure our infrastructure from the worst of the storm."

Hurricane Florence is projected to affect the local area by Thursday. Local residents should actively monitor news and weather outlets to keep informed of announcements of local or state authorities, according to the release.

In South Carolina, more than 700 soldiers and approximately 50 airmen have been placed on state active duty for Hurricane Florence response, Army Master Sgt. Michael Houk, a spokesman for the National Guard Bureau, told Military.com.

In North Carolina, more than 200 Guard personnel have been placed on state active duty and are integrating into the North Carolina Emergency Management disaster response plan, Houk said.

"Military organization and training enables unsurpassed capabilities at home in times of large-scale emergency or disaster response," Brigadier General Jeffrey Burkett, vice director of National Guard Bureau Domestic Operations and Force Development, said in a statement. "In other words, the experience and education acquired by National Guard personnel significantly benefits the sense of urgency for us to provide our unique capabilities in times of disaster."

Other posts in South and North Carolina are cautiously preparing for the worst.

Operations at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island and Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort "will continue as normal," Brig. Gen. James Glynn, the commanding general of Marine Corps Recruit Depot and the Eastern Recruiting Region, said in a video published on base social media pages.

"We have been working closely with both South Carolina Emergency Services and Beaufort County as we continue to monitor Hurricane Florence and assess what decisions are necessary to ensure the safety of our families, recruits and permanent personnel," Glynn said.

"For the recruit depot, we have sent an advanced party to Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany in Georgia to posture ourselves in the event we need to evacuate."

Recruits scheduled to ship this week "will travel to MCRD Parris Island and the Marines scheduled to graduate this week from Charlie Company will graduate," Glynn said, but added that all family day activities have been canceled for the week.

"Even though current weather reports indicate that Hurricane Florence is trending toward the north, I strongly discourage families from traveling to Parris Island for graduation," Glynn said. "Your safety is just as important to us as the safety of the recruits and the new Marines. We also don't want to put any strain on emergency services provided by Beaufort County should local officials order and evacuation."

It is possible that Charlie Company may graduate early, Glynn said, adding that the ceremony will be filmed "so you can enjoy your Marine's achievement."

Meanwhile, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina is currently in "Tropical Cyclone Condition V," according to its Facebook page.

As with Lejeune, Fort Bragg, North Carolina officials are taking a more low-key approach to Florence, warning personnel on Facebook that "now is the time to get prepared."

"Build an emergency kit with a minimum of 3-days of supplies for each family member (food, water, medication)," the post states. "Develop and practice a family emergency, evacuation and communication plan."

Officials also warn to "keep enough fuel in your vehicle in case the call to evacuate comes" and "be sure to monitor the local news [and] the National Hurricane Center" at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov.

-- Gina Harkins contributed to this report.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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