Guard ready to respond when needed

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Mississippi Army National Guard soldiers and airmen across thestate were notified Monday to be prepared for deployment shouldTropical Storm Ernesto’s landfall threaten the state or causesevere damage in Florida.

“Nobody has been placed on active duty,” said Lt. Col. TimPowell, director of the ANG’s public affairs office. “The storm istracking through Florida right now, but we are prepared should itcome here.”

Mississippi soldiers and airmen have, however, been asked to beready to mobilize within hours of receiving a telephone call, hesaid.

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Maj. Gen. Harold A. Cross, the state’s adjutant general, saideven a tropical storm is a major concern for coastal residents.

“Even if it’s only a tropical storm, we’ll be needed simplybecause so many people are living in FEMA trailers, and some stillin tents, that will sustain considerable damage, so the NationalGuard will be there for emergency rescue operations.”

The state guard will use a new, revised plan to get moresoldiers where they are needed quickly, Powell said.

“Our revised plans are to move sooner with more people,” Powellsaid. “There were a lot of lessons learned from (Hurricane)Katrina, and that was one of them. If we had storm in the Gulf andit was tracking toward Mississippi, we would start getting readyimmediately now.”

Mississippi has a total of 12,000 soldiers and airmen in thestate force, he said. Approximately 7,000 could be deployed forwardquickly in the event of another hurricane. Thousands more could bemade available within days.

National Guards in 40 states forged Emergency ManagementAssistance Compact agreements shortly after Katrina made landfall.The compacts created a division-size force of more than 16,000troops that could be in place in Mississippi within the first 96hours following landfall – a first for the National Guard in theUnited States.

Prior to Hurricane Katrina, when a storm threatened theMississippi coast soldiers were staged at Mobilization TrainingCenter Camp Shelby to provide a ready response.

In another lesson learned from Katrina, however, soldiers had tocut their way to troubled areas on the coast, where help wasdesperately needed.

Current plans call for a 500-soldier force in each coastalcounty prior to a hurricane’s landfall bolstered by Joint TaskForce Magnolia to provide command and control.

JTF Magnolia will operate out of the 890th Engineer BattalionNational Readiness Center in Gulfport because the previous forwardoperating center was destroyed by Katrina.

“We’ve identified locations that withstood the devastation ofKatrina where we can safely place our forces for a much fasterresponse,” Cross said. “This will allow us to flank from the eastand west as well as from the north at Camp Shelby, and a quickerresponse means saving more lives.”

The state guard has conducted several successful post-Katrinaexercises, including training regimens that put men on the groundand command and control paper drills, he said.