Since Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency in Kentucky on July 26, the National Guard has been working at a furious pace to try to rescue residents trapped amid record floods.
The Kentucky National Guard -- along with partners from bordering states -- has rescued an estimated 580 people, according to Kentucky Guard spokesperson Lt. Col. Carla Raisler. The unit will soon be transitioning to food and water distribution for those affected by the disaster, she told Military.com.
"We are one part of the whole of the Governor's response to the flooding in Eastern Kentucky," Raisler said in an email. "As the National Guard we are conducting a joint mission using both Army and Air resources and capabilities and also reaching across state lines to West Virginia and Tennessee for assistance."
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That effort includes search-and-rescue dogs like Callie, assigned to the Kentucky National Guard, who has spent days with her team staring intently out of a UH-60 Black Hawk through scratched-up "Rex Specs" searching for survivors.
It is one of several missions Callie has been on since last week -- in the air, on the ground, and with boat teams -- in response to the unprecedented flooding in Kentucky.
"Although Callie is trained in live find detection (searching for missing, living people) and we were activated quickly to respond to both the tornado and flood, the missing people in the areas we were deployed to sadly were already deceased," Master Sgt. Rudy Parsons, a K9 handler, told Military.com via email. "No one could have known that beforehand, but Callie did a great job of telling us specific locations to investigate more thoroughly to help bring closure to those individual's families."
Parsons said that, despite the tragedy, the response has been rewarding to assist family, friends and neighbors of the commonwealth -- an element that is unique to the Guard, as many members are from the communities they serve.
"When it comes to disasters and tragedy, it's all hands on deck," he said. "The Guard are true 'Minute Men' and it was apparent in the flood response."
Thus far Kentucky has confirmed that 37 residents have died from the flooding, including at least four children, according to a Tuesday press conference from the governor's office.
"Don't give up," Beshear said this week, announcing that federal resources were en route after President Joe Biden's approval last week. Amid the ongoing and devastating tragedy, the commonwealth's own response demonstrated a return to the National Guard's primary domestic responsibility after almost three years of balancing a nationwide COVID-19 crisis.
"I believe we have the best National Guard in the country," Beshear said in a Tuesday press conference. "And I think they prove it time and time again," he added, going on to laud the component's quick response to the disaster with "rescue after rescue after rescue."
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the National Guard has been asked to step in and help with a whole range of labor shortages, performing duties like bus driving, nasal swabbing and even substitute teaching.
"I think [the National Guard has] continued to do this consistently on top of COVID," a National Guard soldier told Military.com. "They've been doing all sorts of firefighting and rescue the last two years; it just doesn't get the same kind of attention."
One National Guard officer told Military.com that, as the service component is coming off of the COVID mission, morale is low given the strain of balancing federal and state missions during the pandemic.
"Federal and state missions have taxed the Guard far too much," he said. "We cannot be the force that the federal government or the state governments can use to flex to any issue that they cannot manage themselves."
The Kentucky National Guard continues to deploy overseas while maintaining a presence at home to address disasters like the flooding last week.
"In the National Guard, one of the good things or the benefits we have is we're based in all of the communities around the country," Gen. Daniel Hokanson, head of the U.S. National Guard Bureau, told The Associated Press, lauding the Kentucky Guard's flood response. "And so in many cases, we're the first ones that are able to work with the local first responders and regional first responders to get in there and save as many lives as we can and try and mitigate as much damage as quickly as possible."
Callie, the rescue working dog, has responded to several crises in the last eight months herself, including tornado destruction that affected Mayfield, Kentucky, in December. This week, though, has been a different experience for the canine.
-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.
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