By Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 28, 2009 - National Guard troops were activated in two states yesterday as a major winter storm spread ice and snow from Texas to Maine. In Kentucky, state officials said about 500 Army National Guard soldiers have been activated to provide generator support, operate shelters in 24 armories and remove downed trees.
In Arkansas, more than 40 Guard members have been activated to provide power in four counties, shelter in four armories and cots and blankets to the armories and other shelters being established around the state.
"The Guard presence is growing," said Army Col. Phil Miller, public affairs officer for the Kentucky National Guard. "People just can't move."
Supporting the Kentucky Department of Transportation, a 12-person team with three chainsaws was sent to Hopkins County, and a 10-person team with three Humvees and six chainsaws is working in Breathitt County to help in clearing roadways for transportation and power crews.
"The power outage is the biggest issue," said Miller, who added that priority for generator support is being given to shelters and critical-care facilities.
Establishing warming centers is another priority in Kentucky due to the power outages and low temperatures.
Miller said heavy snow started in northern Kentucky counties today, with two to five inches in the forecast.
"As of right now, we're still watching our weather closely," Army Capt. Chris Heathscott, public affairs officer for the Arkansas National Guard, said. "We don't see it easing up any time soon. We continue to be available to move troops and equipment whenever we receive the call."
With the 39th Brigade Combat Team back from Iraq, "we are fully manned and equipped to handle pretty much anything this storm can push in our direction," he added.
In Fulton County, two airmen from the 188th Fighter Wing and two soldiers from the 87th Troop Command deployed with generators. Soldiers also are helping out in Jackson, Franklin and Clay counties.
In Siloam Springs, Harrison, Mountain Home and Berryville, the local armory is being used as a shelter. Soldiers from the 142nd Fires Brigade are at the Harrison, Berryville and Siloam Springs armories providing 24-hour operations.
Also yesterday, an incident-support unit provided 350 cots and blankets to the Harrison armory and the Springdale Fire Department for their emergency sheltering operation.
At least 165,000 homes and businesses in Arkansas are without power, according to the Associated Press. Kentucky state officials reported more than 174,000 customers with no electricity. The governor declared a statewide emergency yesterday.
The Associated Press also reported that Arkansas utilities warned customers that their power could be out for at least three days in what is expected to be one of the largest outages the state has ever had.
Ice and winter storm warnings are still in effect today from Arkansas to Maine, according to the National Weather Service.
Meanwhile, in North Dakota, the National Guard was called out Jan. 22 to remove snow in wind-chill conditions that have hit 40 below zero.
"[They're] clearing roadways to allow two-lane traffic," Bill Prokopyk of the North Dakota National Guard public affairs office said. "[They're] clearing not only the road, but pushing the snow up to 150 feet on both sides." This will help to prevent the wind from blowing the snow back onto the road after the Guard members leave, he explained.
Winter storms are nothing new for the North Dakota troops. In 2005, their last major response to a winter storm, soldiers and airmen worked their way west along I-94 and cleared roads and rescued motorists, Prokopyk said.
"The North Dakota National Guard is always planning for anticipated missions," he said, "whether it's winter storm assistance in the form of rescue or snow removal on roads for travel, fighting floods, primarily in the spring, or firefighting."
Army Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, the state adjutant general, told the Minot Daily News earlier this week that the Guard also will help get feed to cattle for ranchers who make their requests through their county emergency management offices.
(Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke serves at the National Guard Bureau.)