The clarinet player and the ice storm

Story by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

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Sgt. 1st Class Angela Wilkins with the 202nd Army Band worked as a liaison for the Kentucky National Guard, the Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency during the winter storm of 2009. Wilkins coordinated the deliveries of more than 200 generators across the commonwealth after storm-induced power outages. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

FRANKFORT, Ky. — In January 2009, Angela Wilkins was warm and comfortable as a stay-at-home mom with her two children in Frankfort, Ky. They watched as the National Weather Service predicted a winter storm to dump accumulating ice and snow across the region. The forecast was right, but the estimated totals were less than what actually coated several states, knocking out power for hundreds of thousands and pushing state agencies to the brink.

Wilkins was also without power and soon found herself in the middle of the largest activation of the Kentucky National Guard in its history.

“On a state level, it was catastrophic. They even had to call up the band,” said Sgt. 1st Class Wilkins, the readiness NCO for the Kentucky Guard’s 202nd Army Band.

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear would be quoted saying that the storm that blew through Kentucky was the “worst natural disaster” to ever hit the commonwealth. Nearly all of the 120 counties were affected in some way and almost every Kentucky Guardsman would be called up to assist citizens from the Bluegrass to the Mississippi River.

Wilkins was at the time, a traditional Guardsman serving one weekend a month as a musician in the band. After the storm hit she joined more than 4,600 other Soldiers and Airmen in Kentucky and reported for duty. Members of the band filled in wherever needed, assisting with logistical tracking or the delivery of radios and supplies to other Guardsmen across the state.

The Kentucky Division of Emergency Management needed help with the coordination of multiple agencies out of Frankfort. Wilkins had previously worked as a program analyst for the Kentucky Guard’s J6 (Communications and Information Technology), so she was asked to put her expertise to task.

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Kentucky Guardsmen load generators for transport during the winter storm, Feb. 3, 2014. Generators were sent to assist local communities with basic needs such as powering hospitals and state offices to keep relief efforts up and running. (File photo)

“It was almost chaos,” Wilkins remembers of the emergency response coming out of Frankfort. “I was a clarinet player directing where generators went.”

Wilkins assisted Emergency Management with the placement of more than 200 generators from the state, the Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  Each agency offered the use of the equipment, but someone had to decide where they needed to go.

“Each agency had their own way of sending the generators out,” Wilkins recalled. “They choose me to be the liaison between the groups and get the equipment out to the field in the most efficient way possible. We were able to get them to those who needed them quicker and easier, and we helped a lot of people.”

Wilkins’ children were able to stay with relatives that had power and it took at least five days for the heat and lights to come back on in Frankfort, so many sleepless nights were spent in an armory, making the best of the situation.

For two weeks, thousands of Guardsmen cleared roads, delivered food and water and conducted home to home wellness checks throughout the state. Soldiers from the infantry, the artillery, MPs and of course, the band came to the assistance of hundreds of thousands of citizens. By the time the last generator was turned off and returned, the Soldiers and Airmen were sent home with a big pat on their backs.

“I scheduled the last pick-up, typed up my after action report and left. Those two weeks pushed me to the limits,” she said.

“Sergeant Wilkins’ performance during the 2009 ice storm is typical of the professionalism we’ve come to expect from our troops, particularly in a time of crisis,” said Maj. Gen. Lonnie Culver, a task force commander during the relief mission.  “This was absolutely the worst natural disaster in our state’s history and everyone from our combat engineers to the band had a role to play, and they did so with urgency, efficiency and passion.  The people of Kentucky owe much to these great Citizen Soldiers and Airmen.”

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Members of the Kentucky Air National Guard walk rural roads of McDaniels, Ky. providing “Wellness Checks” to its residents during emergency ice storm relief efforts, Feb. 1, 2009. More than 4,600 Kentucky Guardsmen were activated to support local and federal agencies following the storm. (File photo)

Wilkins said it was the first time the entire band had been called up for State Active-Duty. If there were highlights in such a costly event, she said it was getting to see members of her unit playing a part in the historical call-up.

“It was great to say that the band got to help,” she said.

“They arose to the occasion. Everyone worked for the welfare of the state, everyone had a role, they didn’t complain about it not being their job, they just helped where they could. That’s what sets the National Guard apart.”

 

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