United States National Guard Prepared to Support Local Communities as Hurricane, Wildfire Seasons Approach

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Pentagon
By Joseph Clark

Washington – The National Guard remains at the ready to support local communities as states prepare for natural disasters and extreme weather events, officials said today.

Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Robert F. Paoletti, the director of the joint staff for the California National Guard, and Lt. Col. Blake Heidelberg, director of military support for the Florida National Guard, briefed reporters ahead of the summer’s peak wildfire and hurricane seasons.

Both officials said there is little down time for National Guard troops who prepare year-round for anything Mother Nature may throw at them.

“We have a saying in Florida that you’re either in hurricane season, or you’re preparing for hurricane season,” Heidelberg said.

Florida’s National Guard troops are a key component of the state’s ability to remain resilient in the face of recurring storms.

Last week the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service forecasters from the Climate Prediction Center predicted above-normal activity for the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

The forecasters expect between 17 to 25 named storms with winds of 39 mph or higher this season. Of those, between eight and 13 are expected to become hurricanes with winds of 74 mph or higher.

The forecasters expect a portion — between four and seven — of those storms to become major hurricanes with winds of 111 mph or higher.

Regardless of the forecast year-to-year, Heidelberg said National Guard troops must remain ready to support state officials and help local communities recover.

He said the Florida Guard takes a deliberate approach to supporting domestic operations while at the same time being ready to deploy in support of contingencies around the globe.

That deliberate approach includes devoting a drill period every year specifically to hurricane response and domestic operations training.

“We look at it, we plan and we assign tasks to specific units, because we know that hurricanes are not only our most likely course of action, but they’re also our most dangerous course of action,” Heidelberg said. “So, it allows us to really focus on that.”

In California, the National Guard has, for years, played a vital role in responding to the perennial threat of wildfires throughout the state.

While fires remain possible throughout the year, peak wildfire season normally begins in late spring and runs through October.

The California Air National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing is one of only four units throughout the country to field C-130s outfitted with the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems. Developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service in the 1970s, the MAFFS douse wildfires with thousands of gallons of fire retardant with each overhead pass.

The California Army National Guard has also long fielded troops during the height of fire season. They’ve assisted local and state officials at check points and evacuation areas and formed hand crews to assist with forest management projects during the off-season.

In 2019, California stood up Task Force Rattlesnake comprising soldiers and airmen who serve on full-time crews alongside the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as CAL FIRE.

In the offseason, those crews work to clear debris from forested areas throughout the state to mitigate the risk and devastation posed by wildfires.

The Florida and California Guards’ support to their local communities is a reflection of the critical role units play across the nation in responding to extreme weather events.

In 2023, National Guard units across 23 states dedicated more than 50,000 person-days to responding to severe weather events. Those events included six hurricane-type storms in 13 states and territories, winter storms in seven states, floods in three states and tornadoes in two states.

National Guard units also supported containment and mitigation efforts for 53,685 wildfires across 23 states in 2023.

Those figures reflect the unique role each state’s National Guard plays in supporting their local communities — a particular point of pride for those who serve.

“I’m very proud of the fact that California has made significant investment over the last few years more towards prevention rather than just reaction to California wildfires,” Paoletti said.

Paoletti added that in addition to remaining ready to respond to wildfires, guardsmen in California prepare to support their local communities across a range of potential natural disasters.

“In today’s changing world we have to be ready for more than just wildfires,” he said. “We responded the last few years to floods and California’s first hurricane. I know that Florida is much more experienced with those than we are, but we stand ready to uphold the National Guard motto of ‘Always Ready, Always There!’ to respond to the needs of Californians when they need it most.”

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