USA — Three States Draw Down Guard’s Oil Spill Response

ARLINGTON, Va., Aug. 11, 2010 — Now that the leak has been plugged and the oil has been stopped, three of the four states on duty are decreas­ing the num­ber of Nation­al Guard mem­bers they have respond­ing to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mex­i­co.

BP oil spill
Sol­diers from the Alaba­ma Nation­al Guard build and main­tain miles of bar­ri­ers to pro­tect Dauphin Island, Ala., beach­es from the BP oil spill, July 23, 2010. More than 1,400 Nation­al Guard mem­bers are sup­port­ing Oper­a­tion Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon in four Gulf states.
U.S. Army pho­to by Staff Sgt. Jim Green­hill
Click to enlarge

Flori­da, Alaba­ma, Mis­sis­sip­pi and Louisiana still have more than 1,400 Guard mem­bers pro­vid­ing secu­ri­ty, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, avi­a­tion and admin­is­tra­tive sup­port to Oper­a­tion Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon, but that num­ber will be affect­ed by the suc­cess of the recent sta­t­ic kill in the com­ing weeks, offi­cials said.

In Flori­da, where Guards­men are patrolling beach­es for tar balls on all-ter­rain vehi­cles, about 70 Guard mem­bers remain on duty today. The high point was about 100. An addi­tion­al 30 Guard mem­bers from oth­er states are also work­ing in the air coor­di­na­tion cen­ter at Tyn­dall Air Force Base, Fla.

“We are main­tain­ing cur­rent oper­a­tions of pri­mar­i­ly ground recon­nais­sance as well as avi­a­tion sup­port, while also doing our plan­ning and coor­di­na­tion for the right-siz­ing of our force,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Ron Tit­tle, the state pub­lic affairs offi­cer. If they are need­ed, “we have forces that have been and will be ready to respond to the needs of our nation,” Tit­tle said.

In Alaba­ma, the claims action team end­ed its mis­sion on July 30, said Army Lt. Col. Cyn­thia Bachus, the state pub­lic affairs offi­cer. She said the state now has about 200 Guards­men on duty, which is half the num­ber that was on duty at the height of oper­a­tions.

About 200 Alaba­ma Guards­men went door to door in Bald­win and Mobile coun­ties telling peo­ple how to file claims with BP. Oth­er mis­sions includ­ed erect­ing bar­ri­ers on Dauphin Island, trans­port­ing state and fed­er­al offi­cials with avi­a­tion assets, and coor­di­nat­ing air sup­port for sur­veil­lance of the slick and skim­ming oper­a­tions at the inci­dent com­mand post in Mobile.

In Mis­sis­sip­pi, Guard offi­cials announced Aug. 3 that the num­ber of sol­diers sup­port­ing the oil spill response would be reduced by 75 per­cent.

“We brought on a respon­si­ble amount of Nation­al Guards­men when the task at hand required it,” said Army Col. Lee Smith­son, com­man­der of Joint Task Force Vig­i­lant Hori­zon, which over­sees the Mis­sis­sip­pi Nation­al Guard’s response to the oil spill. “But this phased reduc­tion match­es the response need­ed.”

On Aug. 1, near­ly 230 Nation­al Guard sol­diers were acti­vat­ed, but only about 50 will remain on duty by Aug. 20, Smith­son said.

This announce­ment of troop reduc­tions in Mis­sis­sip­pi comes near­ly two weeks after the deci­sion to acti­vate 30 addi­tion­al troops to boost the com­mu­ni­ca­tions link on cleanup ves­sels, and it coin­cides with the suc­cess­ful cap­ping of the well.

“With two weeks of no oil sight­ing, the time has come to right-size the force,” Smith­son said. “The light at the end of the tun­nel is approach­ing.”

After the leak was plugged Aug. 5, retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the nation­al inci­dent com­man­der, said the clean-up effort has a long way to go.

“There still is resid­ual oil that is out there,” he said. “It’s not that visu­al. It’s hard­er to find at sea, but we still know we have tar balls and mats that are show­ing up, … so we have to be in a posi­tion to respond to that.”

In Louisiana, the num­ber of Guards­men on duty is hold­ing steady at 1,030, said Army Col. Mike Dev­ille, the state pub­lic affairs offi­cer. “We are con­tin­u­ing the sup­port by main­tain­ing the cur­rent bar­ri­er projects that we have emplaced, and we con­tin­ue to work with the parish­es and local offi­cials to assist with their needs,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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