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NY National Guard mobilizes 250 Soldiers, Airmen for three-day weather emergency in western New York

NY National Guard mobilizes 250 Soldiers, Airmen for three-day weather emergency in western New York

Story by Eric Durr and MSgt Brandy Fowler on 02/26/2019

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The New York National Guard placed 250 Soldiers and Airmen on duty in Western New York February 23 in advance of a wind storm that brought gusts of up to 74 miles per hour to the region on Sunday, Feb. 24 and Monday, Feb. 25.

The winds toppled trees, left 44,000 customers without electricity, forced road closures, and ripped the roof off of part of the University of Buffalo bookstore at the college’s north campus on Sunday Feb. 24, according to the Buffalo News.

As the windstorm hit the National Weather Service warned of damage and driving delays caused by the high winds, as well as potential damages to structures along the Niagara River and Lake Erie as high wind drives ice on shore. The wind also caused obscured vision as bands of lake effect snow swept across the area, according to the weather service.

The activation of 250 Soldiers and Airmen to conduct debris clearance missions if needed, was part of overall state and local government preparations for the wind storm, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said.

“One thing we’ve learned over and over in these severe weather situations is if you wait for the storm to develop to start your actions, it’s too late,” Cuomo said on Sunday, Feb. 24.

“We have taken every precaution to ensure a smooth response to these dangerously high winds and have made it clear to utilities that they must work to restore power as quickly as possible. I urge all New Yorkers to remain alert during this storm system and to report any disruptions in power to their utility immediately,” the governor said.

The New York National Guard originally mobilized 100 Soldiers and Airmen35 Soldiers from 42nd Infantry Division elements, 35 Soldiers from 53rd Troop Command units, and 30 Airmen from the 107th Attack Wing at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Stationand stationed them at the Masten Avenue Armory in Buffalo on Saturday, Feb. 23 along with 25 humvees and trucks.

Forty chainsaws were provided for debris clearance teams to use. Five New York Guard state defense force members were assigned to conduct chainsaw training classes.

New York Guard Staff Sgt. William Jolly said it was rewarding to be able to help by training Soldiers and Airmen on chainsaw use.

“The New York State Guard has a unique skillset, and I am happy to come out and help with training and assist people,” Jolly said.

The National Weather Service called the storm “a particularly dangerous situation,” with potential for lakeshore flooding and blizzard conditions based on the high winds.

On the afternoon of Feb. 23 the governor directed the allocation of an additional 150 National Guard service members who could be used to direct traffic as part of the debris clearance

Seventy-five of those Soldiers were drawn from 53rd Troop command units while Joint Task Force Empire Shield assigned 75 Soldiers and Airmen to the mission.

Joint Task Force Empire Shield is the New York National Guard’s full-time security augmentation force in New York City.

In addition to the 250 Soldiers and Airmen assigned directly to the debris clearance and traffic control mission, additional personnel were on duty to provide logistics support and mission command for the mission.

To provide command for the mission, the National Guard’s Joint Task Force 5 headquarters was activated at the headquarters of the 107th Attack Wing at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

Using the wing’s joint operations center was a first for the region, said Army National Guard Major Jamie Lepsch, the task force operations officer normally assigned to the 153rd Troop Command Headquarters in Buffalo.

“We are implementing and conducting real-world disaster operations that we have only trained to do before today, “Lepsch said on Feb. 25.

“The 107th has proved to be an ideal location because we have on-base lodging, an active sustainment operation and emergency power that we’ve had to use a few times already. This location has allowed us to fully integrate all of our forces in one place,” Lepsch explained.

Soldiers and Airmen were in place on Sunday and Monday, Feb 24-25, preparing themselves with chainsaw operator training and ready for missions, but none were assigned.

On Monday morning, Feb. 25, 75 Soldiers were re-positioned to the Thompson Road Armory in Syracuse to be available for missions in the Central New York region as the threat of high winds moved east.

By the evening of Feb. 25, with winds dying down and power restoration well underway for residents, the Soldiers and Airmen were released from duty.

The responsiveness of the Guard forces put state resources forward quickly, especially with unpredictable winter weather, the governor said during storm preparations Feb. 23.

“The National Guard, who just God bless them, they are always there when we need them,” Cuomo said during a press conference.

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