September 14, 2004

REDHORSE deploys to Florida for hurricane support

Fifty-six members of the 203rd Red Horse Squadron, based at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach, headed for Florida on Sept. 4. But, relaxing and soaking up the sun at the beach were the last things on their minds as they headed for the Sunshine State in a convoy of two busses and 11 military vehicles. Instead they were called up for state active duty -- humanitarian assistance and hurricane relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Frances.

The squadron received the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) request about 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 3. Yes, Labor Day weekend. By 7:00 that evening Maj. Pete Garner, 203rd Operations Officer, and his team were calling unit members and putting the deployment in motion. The 56 individuals able to respond to the disaster assistance request reported for duty at 7:00 the next morning, and by noon they were heading south. "I think our response speed surprised the Joint Emergency Operations Center at Ft. Pickett," Garner said. "But we have motivated, energized people, who wanted to help the people of Florida. This is part of what we are here to do."

With 203rd Commander Lt. Col. Paul Julian in the lead, the group was tackling its first job on Sunday. Less than 24 hours after leaving Virginia Beach, the group was clearing downed trees and storm debris at Camp Blanding's Joint Training Center. As the group finished up work on the military facility, they used the local (Bradford County) emergency operations center to identify how they could be of assistance in the surrounding community. The EOC provided information on local roads that were impassable because of fallen trees and downed utility lines, and debris or drainage problems from localized flooding. The unit then set up an equipment staging area for their heavy equipment within the city of Starke, Fla., and began debris removal operations in both the city and the county. Two 203rd power production specialists are assisting and providing relief for 202nd electrical specialists working to ease electrical problems in the West Palm Beach area.

"Frances was still blowing through when our team arrived. It was kind of a slow start," Garner noted, "but they are engaged now and feel like they are truly contributing to Florida's communities and its people. Helping people is the key to our state mission."

Some of the areas where 203rd Red Horse members worked were extensively damaged by the hurricane and are among the lowest-income areas in the state. "We feel like we are really able to make a difference for these communities. Without the budget or the equipment to handle a clean up effort of this size, this work could have taken them a long time to handle."

As they continue their current mission, weather forecasters are predicting the landfall track for Hurricane Ivan -- along the panhandle/Ft. Walton Beach stretch of Florida -- the decision has been made to keep the deployed 203rd members in place pending additional damage from this powerful storm. State emergency planners are already anticipating significant amounts of work based on the anticipated direction and intensity of Ivan. Additional 203rd unit members are on standby awaiting the call if the workload in Florida, or at home in Virginia, requires extra hands after Ivan's arrival.

While in Florida, the 203rd reports to the Task Force Engineer for the State of Florida, which is led by Col. Jack Paschal, Commander of the 202nd Red Horse Squadron, and the 203rd's sister unit.

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