Guardsmen activated for winter storm response

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

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Spc. Timothy Smith with the 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry hands a case of water to Anne Cockley, a Red Cross volunteer at Green Hills Elementary School in Bledsoe, Ky., Feb. 24, 2015. The Soldiers assisted with water deliveries throughout Harlan County in response to a water shortage caused by a recent winter storm. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

HARLAN, Ky. — More than 100 Kentucky Guardsmen were activated this week to assist local communities following a devastating winter storm.

Snowfall totals in excess of two feet along with bitterly cold temperatures pushed counties in Eastern and Southern Kentucky to the brink. With 93 of Kentucky’s 120 counties declaring emergencies, Gov. Steve Beshear issued a state of emergency Feb. 16, opening the door for the Guard to assist.

Soldiers with the 201st Engineer Battalion helped clear more than 70 miles of roads in Lee County alone. Trucks from the 138th Field Artillery Brigade and 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade moved palletized water from Louisville to staging areas.

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Spc. James Harmon with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry helps guide a pallet of water into a vehicle for distribution in Harlan, Ky., Feb. 24, 2015. The Guardsmen were able to supply distribution points across Harlan County to get the water closer to those in need. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

In Harlan County, Soldiers with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry transported pallets of water to distribution points throughout the county following water system failures.

“We have the equipment to do the job,” said Staff Sgt. Terry Brock with Alpha Co. “We’ve been delivering water, clearing roads, shoveling driveways, helping people get to doctors, just helping out wherever we can.”

Brock, who lives in Harlan County, even had to deliver water to his own family on one of the unit’s runs. “It was good to help them out and to be in a spot to help out the whole county of Harlan too.”

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Frozen lines and pump failures knocked out the water to an estimated 45,000 households in Eastern Kentucky. Together with the snow, the rural mountain communities were impacted much worse than other parts of the state.

Harlan County Judge Executive Dan Mosley said he has requested a lot of local and state resources throughout this process and finds it encouraging to find so many willing to help.

“The Guard has helped us out in a big way,” he said. “We would not have been able to set up so many distribution points if it wasn’t for the National Guard, the Red Cross and Operation UNITE. There would be a lot of people without water in their homes if it wasn’t for the Kentucky National Guard units doing what they’re doing here.”

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Soldiers with the 201st Engineer Battalion work to remove snow from a road in Lee County, Ky., Feb. 19, 2015. The unit cleared more than 70 miles of snow following the winter storm that impacted much of Kentucky. (Photo courtesy of 201st Engineer Battalion)

According to Spc. James Harmon with Alpha Co., the unit was responsible for the delivery of more than 7,000 gallons of water. In coordination with the Red Cross, the Guardsmen supplied designated distribution points that were closer for citizens to pick up the water. Each run became similar to a wellness check as the Citizen-Soldiers recognized familiar faces and were able to judge the situation based upon the words of their own friends and locals they knew.

“I grew up here in Harlan, it’s a great community of people,” said Harmon. “I just helped deliver water to my old elementary school in Bledsoe. It’s why I enjoy being a part of the National Guard. We serve our Nation, but are also here to help our neighbors get back on their feet.”

Soldiers in the are also provided transportation assistance to emergency personnel, ensuring doctors, nurses and health care staff made it to work.

With more than 30 vehicles in use across the Commonwealth, the Guardsmen are expected to continue each mission through the week.

Check out some video of the Harlan County response mission below:

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