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Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Snow - ya think ya got Snow?
My operations section and I just happened to be at the Akron-Canton, Ohio airport’s National Guard facility overseeing a helicopter deployment from both Fort Campbell and Fort Knox, Kentucky with a final destination being Fort Drum, New York. During the lull between the flights north in mid-January and the flights back south later in early February, we were called in as the command and control element for the several snow recoveries that took place in relation to the 1978 snow event. We became involved because the Commander of the Support Group that I was assigned to at the time had the additional duty of being the 1st Army Area Disaster Relief Coordinator. This responsibility covered any disaster that took place east of the Mississippi River that involved any element of the National Guard or Reserve components.
The trip to our location had not been without its problems due to the unexpected snow that hit the Fort Bragg area just the day before our departure. This was the first and only snow I experienced during the four years I spent at Bragg. The snow and ice followed us during the entire convoy west to Ashville, North Carolina then north to Lexington, Kentucky and finally northeast to Akron-Canton, Ohio. Other than a few breakdowns, we lost not one vehicle during the trip. SMG Zapata, SGT Stanton and I acted as the coordinating vehicle trooping the entire line of march back and forth all day to help insure command and control was being evenly managed throughout the wide spread of vehicles. The guys headed to Fort Campbell and Fort Knox trailed along with us until such time as their departure required them to alter their course to reach their ultimate destination. The guys headed to Jamestown, New York made the entire trip with us to Akron-Canton and then departed the next day for their final destination.
Our initial mission was to provide command, control, monitoring of the flight route and aircraft maintenance at the locations other than the major military facilities in the route. We additionally were to provide a mess and overnight facility at the center point – Akron-Canton.
We initially had thought we would have pretty easy duty during the actual field operation that was taking place way up in New York State. Fort Drum is actually just south of the Canadian border so it was a long way off from us. We even spent time at the NFL Hall of Fame one day during the down time. Subordinate units of the Group were there operating under a small contingent of the command while the rest of us were strung along the flight route from Fort Campbell to Fort Drum. Oh yah, we still had operations being conducted daily at Fort Bragg also. We had some real good people in charge at each spot and this made the overall situation much easier to accomplish what we would eventually have to accomplish.
Well the day after the visit to the Hall of Fame it started to snow. Then it snowed more. After more snow had fallen it started to really SNOW. It just kept getting worse and worse. You might have heard of ‘lake effect snow’; well we found out just what that meant. Toledo and Cleveland were hit pretty bad and still it got worse.
The next thing we knew, the National Guard was being mobilized and that’s when we were called into the event. This wasn’t new to our unit. The Group had been called into the Buffalo, New York operation the previous winter to provide the same support. It was old hat to those of us assigned to the Group.
As the storm moved east the situation continued to deteriorate. The units at Fort Drum were being hampered by the snow effect. The guys from Fort Bragg were not acclimatized to this kind of weather. They had drawn the extra cold weather gear required for the operation but still they weren’t used to that much cold. I was due to my four year tour in Alaska, but I wasn’t at Fort Drum right now. The reports coming in were as bad as the guys there could make them sound. I felt for them, but not much.
The weather continued to move east and the cities in its path started to get the full effects of the problem that we were encountering in the Ohio area. The Ole’ Man, with his driver and a troop or two, departed for Toledo to assume control of the elements there. The XO also was redeployed from Fort Drum to Cleveland to provide control for the operations taking place there. The Group S3 and I maintained control over the operations taking place in the Columbus area. The days became longer and longer as the event continued.
I remember receiving a call from one of the Guard engineer units in the Toledo area that couldn’t get in immediate touch with the ‘Ole Man to report a situation that he just didn’t want to sit on. The operations officer said “Sir, one of the graders just cut a man in half.”
I responded, “Say again.”
“Sir, one of the graders clearing a snow bank along a side street just cut a body that was in the bank in half. The body was frozen and must have been in the bank for days now.”
I ask, “Have you guys reported this to the local authorities?”
“No sir, not yet. I wanted to get command notified and then do that straight away.”
“Roger. Let me know if you need any further help concerning the situation.”
I felt sorry for the guy. He had probably never been involved in this kind of activity before. That was the way it goes. Sometimes you have good news and sometimes you don’t.
The next day on way back from a coordination visit with a Guard unit accomplishing snow removal and house searches for heat relief in the Akron area, we spotted a small restaurant along side the highway that looked to be open. It was the first establishment we had seen open in days. While setting at the counter drinking some coffee a little old lady came in and spotted us. Assuming we were part of the National Guard unit that was operating house searches in the local area, she became enraged and started beating SMG Zapata with her umbrella, hollering at him, and relating her three day ordeal waiting someone to come and help her. SMG Zapata just happened to be sitting closest to the door and was I glad it wasn’t me. Zapata started hollering back in his Latin-English habit that came out when he got excited, “I’m Regular Army. I’m Regular Army. I’m not National Guard lady. I’m Regular Army.”
Little Lady wasn’t buying it. She kept at him with that umbrella and her hollering, “Where have you been? I’ve been stuck in my house for three days waiting on you.”
After being a little startled and snickering just a bit we came to the aid of our comrade and finally convinced her that we weren’t who she thought we were. From there we went on to get her the help she needed and deserved but for a short time there was real rage there and Zapata was the target.
Upon arriving back at operations, I found that I had a call from FEMA. Answering their summons, I found that we needed to send a contingent to Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts to coordinate the snow event taking place there.
I immediately got in touch with the Ole Man and asked for his recommendation. He advised that he wanted to send the XO as the operation was in the cleanup stage in Cleveland and that control could revert to us at Akron-Canton. After hanging up from him, I alerted the XO that he was being tapped to depart for Logan (Boston) as soon as he could manage. He additionally was to take his team with him. I called FEMA back and let them know the ‘who and when’ about the deployment.
The next afternoon I received a call from the XO who had made it to Logan but could not get from the airport to the command location due to snow. Can you imagine? Some two and a half hours later he again called and advised that he was on site and operating. I let the Ole Man know as soon as I got a chance to touch base with him.
Later that evening I received another call from the FEMA team overseeing the entire East Coast. They were alerting us that they might need a team to head into New York City. The governor had not made up his mind as yet but was contemplating a Guard mobilization for the city. This however turned out to be a false alarm as the governor eventually decided that they could handle the situation on their own. We were down to our last lieutenant colonel at the time, the Group Logistics Officer. The Log Officer was new to his current position but had been the XO during the Buffalo deployment and knew the task backwards and forwards.
The Ole Man required that all the pertinent information be channeled back through the central operations office. This way I could filter what was taking place and brief him routinely without him having to sit through a glut of superfluous information. We remained very busy coordinating the recovery operations during all the snow events that took place during the January//February timeframe of 1978.
As I sit here putting this down, they have finally called out the Guard in the District. Well it just might finally be getting as bad as it once was in ’78 – just maybe!