Aviators of the 1-150th Assault Helicopter Battalion, New Jersey Army National Guard, search for stranded residents on Tuesday. (Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen / Air Force)
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, more than 11,000 Army and Air National Guard troops were deployed to aid the storm-ravaged Northeast, saving lives, providing shelter and helping restore communities.
In New York, where power and transportation infrastructures were crippled by the storm Oct. 29 and 30, the National Guard planned to give out more than 1 million meals and bottled water to residents of areas affected.
Troops were manning more than a dozen distribution sites in hard-hit areas of Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn soon after the Nov. 1 announcement, handing out meals supplied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"After days without power, the most immediate need for many New Yorkers is food and water, and the state is working aggressively to address this need," said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. "The first plane into [John F. Kennedy International Airport] this morning was from FEMA, carrying supplies and personnel we requested."
Long lines were reported Nov. 1, as some New Yorkers waited hours for three nonperishable meals and a few bottles of water each.
Sgt. Daniel Reyes, an infantryman with the 69th Infantry's operations company, said he was part of a team distributing food.
"When we got there, everybody was happy we were there — about 300 people waiting for food and water. And we were glad to get it to them," said Reyes, 24, of Brooklyn.
Reyes, who deployed to northeastern Afghanistan once in 2008-09, said his family was not affected by the storm.
In the wake of the havoc and destruction wreaked by Hurricane Sandy, National Guard personnel in the northeastern U.S. were assisting local first responders and FEMA with support at evacuation shelters, doing damage assessments, route clearance, debris reduction and removal, search and rescue, and delivering essential equipment and supplies.
Army and Air National Guard forces were on duty by midweek, supporting the governors in 13 Eastern Seaboard states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia and West Virginia.
Dual status commanders were approved for Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island.
The hurricane is believed to have caused at least 98 deaths in the U.S., as of Nov. 2.
In New Jersey, where more than 2 million residents were left without power, according to FEMA, 2,100 Guard troops were supporting local responders with shelter support, debris removal and power generation.
On Oct. 31, President Obama visited affected areas with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to assess the damage and extend his condolences to the victims.
On Nov. 1, the troops delivered food and water to residents of Hoboken, a heavily flooded city across from Manhattan, as officials sent out a plea for more supplies, including boats and generators.
The storm left half of the city of 50,000 flooded, with many residents trapped in their homes. The New Jersey National Guard brought in high-wheeled trucks to deliver supplies and evacuate residents with medical and other special needs.
Elsewhere, Virginia National Guard troops rescued seven adults and a child in Mears, Va., a town near the Chesapeake Bay, according to a news release.
In once instance, soldiers cut through trees to let their medium tactical truck reach a house that was surrounded by floodwaters to help a stranded family of five. In another, they trudged through two miles of high water to reach a couple and guide their boat to their truck.
In New York, Cuomo had mobilized more than 2,300 soldiers and airmen by midweek to aid New York City and communities on Long Island.
On Oct. 31, at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, 150 soldiers assigned to the 69th Infantry lugged fuel up 13 flights of stairs to power an emergency generator on the roof, allowing the hospital to remain open. They also had evacuated 500 patients from the hospital.
Reyes said he was part of a team that spent eight hours carrying patients on stretchers from the hospital's 16th floor. Most of the patients were elderly and could not walk.
"It was a long day, but I'm proud we got it done," Reyes said. "Their lives depended on it, so you could say it was heartwarming to get the job done, and to let them know they would be all right. We were getting thanked all day."
The Defense Department airlifted 120 medical personnel from Colorado, Ohio, and Texas to provide care to nursing homes and elderly patients in New York City.
In the midst of the storm, soldiers using Humvees and cargo trucks responded to local emergency managers on Long Island to help with traffic safety, evacuations and, in some cases, rescues of fellow responders from the rapidly rising waters along the South Shore.
As of Nov. 1, the National Guard made 198 light/medium- and four heavy-lift rotary-wing aircraft available to perform reconnaissance and personnel/cargo carrying missions.
In New York, pararescue personnel from the 106th Rescue Wing assisted the Atlantic Beach Fire Department with rescues of residents accessible only by watercraft.
"At the peak of the storm, we had 100 percent of our force and their vehicles out on the streets with first responders," said Maj. Michael Fowler, the operations officer for the 102nd Military Police Battalion, in a news release.
On Staten Island, as Sandy rained down, soldiers and airmen rescued 31 people, including a month-old baby, from buildings that were being flooded, according to a news release. The soldiers and airmen drove their F-150 pickup trucks through rising waters to pluck people from the collapsing structures.
Pararescue jumpers of the 106th Rescue Wing manned zodiac inflatable boats to rescue five people, including a 19-month-old toddler from a barrier island near Atlantic Beach. Airmen also used their LMTV trucks to help local officials evacuate people from Fire Island.
After the weather improved, New York National Guard aviation elements, which had been grounded by Sandy's heavy rains and high winds, staged at the Army Aviation Support Facility in Ronkonkoma to give county emergency managers aerial assessments of damage.
The 106th Rescue Wing employed an HC-130 to survey the damage to Long Island, said Eric Durr, a spokesman with the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs.
Airmen with the 174th Attack Wing in Syracuse and the 109th Airlift Wing at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Schenectady were securing a total of 50 Humvees that were expected to be used in either Long Island or New York City to ferry police and firefighters, Durr said.
"It's a nice joint operation: We got blue drivers in green vehicles," he said.
On the evening after the storm, the New York Army National Guard reversed a decision to send 450 soldiers out of state. The troops, from the 104th Military Police Battalion and 1156th Engineer Company, had at first been declared unavailable so that they could participate in an earthquake-response exercise in Missouri, which has since been canceled.
"We flew the troops where we needed them, when we needed them," Durr said.
Planes and ships deployed
The National Guard response was just one part of the Defense Department's effort to assist FEMA's relief efforts in the storm ravaged Northeast.
By midweek, the Air Force was transporting nearly 70 trucks from a California power company to New York, via Stewart Air National Guard Base near Newburgh, according to a news release from 18th Air Force.
The trucks, from the Southern California Edison utility company, will be loaded onto 12 C-17s and five C-5s.
"Aircraft and crews from 12 active-duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve bases across the nation are mobilized to arrive at March Air Reserve Base, Calif., where they are slated to pick up approximately 10 passengers and 632 short tons of equipment and supplies supporting relief efforts on the East Coast," according to the release.
Roughly 40 airmen from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., were dispatched to March to help with the effort, said Capt. Melissa Milner, a spokeswoman for Travis.
The Navy received orders to send three amphibious from the Norfolk, Va., region to serve as helicopter landing decks for federal authorities, which is a mission warships have performed in the wake of other U.S. disasters, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
On Nov. 1, Fleet Forces Command was readying the amphibious assault ship Wasp, amphibious transport dock San Antonio and dock landing ship Carter Hall.
Four MH-60s with rescue swimmers were onboard the San Antonio, and four MH-53Es were set to fly onto Wasp to join two MH-60s, with rescue swimmers already aboard.
The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, of Camp Lejeune, N.C., deployed 300 Marines aboard Wasp. The Marines are mostly aircrews and maintainers, to support about a dozen aircraft, logistics personnel and a command staff. The aircraft at the MEU's disposal include MV-22 Ospreys, CH-53 Sea Stallions and UH-1N Hueys.
The Navy's top spokesman, Rear Adm. John Kirby, wrote on the Navy's official blog Oct. 31 that deployed ships have not been officially tasked to provide support but that deployed forces would enable "maximum flexibility and options" if there is a need for naval support.
In addition to helicopter lift capabilities, the 26th MEU — which has been in pre-deployment training — is equipped with generators, fuel and clean water.
"Our hearts go out to the families who have lost loved ones," Obama said. "We are here for you, and we will not forget; we will follow up to make sure that you get all the help that you need until you've rebuilt."
Three mothballed vessels from the National Defense Reserve Fleet — one already in New York — were approved to provide lodging for first responders in New York and New Jersey, as requested by FEMA.
The Coast Guard sent teams along affected areas to conduct search and rescue missions, respond to, and to assess and advise status of ports along the East Coast.
Pentagon installations throughout the Northeast — including Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass.; Joint Base McGuire-Dix, Lakehurst, N.J.; and Fort Devens, Mass. — were made available as requested by FEMA.
Bringing the engineers
The Army Corps of Engineers had deployed 400 people to assist FEMA, including "un-watering" experts who went to New York City.
The Corps of Engineers was also working to get 120 high-volume water pumps to New York, to add to the 100 that U.S. Northern Command planned to provide. The Corps also staged 200 generators at four locations to provide additional power capacity in New York and New Jersey.
In West Virginia, where the storm transformed into a killer blizzard that downed trees and power lines, the Corps was planning to provide 80 truckloads of water.
Staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=Question from ArmyTimes.com reader">Bethany Crudele and The Associated Press contributed to this report.