Vermont Official Praises National Guard for Storm Help

RUTLAND, Vt., Sept. 6, 2011 — The Nation­al Guard is essen­tial to Vermont’s recov­ery from Hur­ri­cane Irene, the direc­tor of the state’s crip­pled road sys­tem said here Sept. 4.

“I don’t believe we could do it with­out you,” said Bri­an Sear­les, Vermont’s sec­re­tary of trans­porta­tion. A week after post-Irene flood­ing crip­pled arte­r­i­al roads through the state, the Ver­mont Nation­al Guard’s Task Force Green Moun­tain Spir­it is lead­ing a mul­ti-state effort to sup­port civ­il author­i­ties who are help­ing affect­ed res­i­dents and recon­nect­ing cut-off com­mu­ni­ties with the rest of the world.

“We’re just so thrilled that the Nation­al Guard has come through [in] this way so quick­ly, and we’re look­ing for­ward to get­ting to the end of this,” Sear­les said.

More than 2,500 Guard mem­bers worked through the Labor Day week­end in Con­necti­cut, Mass­a­chu­setts, New Jer­sey, New York, North Car­oli­na, Puer­to Rico, Rhode Island and Ver­mont to assist res­i­dents and repair roads in the storm’s after­math.

More than 700 mem­bers of the Ver­mont Nation­al Guard are mobi­lized here, said Air Force Lt. Col. Lloyd Goodrow, state pub­lic affairs offi­cer, and they have been joined by Guard mem­bers from sup­port­ing states, includ­ing Con­necti­cut, Illi­nois, Maine and New Hamp­shire. More troops and equip­ment are en route from Ohio, South Car­oli­na and Vir­ginia.

“What began as a Ver­mont Nation­al Guard mis­sion has now become a true mul­ti-state Nation­al Guard mis­sion, and that’s some­thing we’re very proud of,” Goodrow said. “States con­tin­ue to call to lend their hand. This is a time when, real­ly, the Nation­al Guard shines.”

Late Sept. 3 and through the ear­ly morn­ing hours the fol­low­ing day, a con­voy of 118 mil­i­tary vehi­cles and about 200 Nation­al Guard mem­bers rolled in here after a 12-hour dri­ve from Maine, bring­ing heavy equip­ment to speed the repair of Vermont’s roads.

“We need engi­neer­ing units and con­struc­tion units,” Sear­les said. “Every­body involved in Ver­mont has been work­ing on this, but they real­ly need­ed to be aug­ment­ed.”

Ver­mont has its own equip­ment and its Guard mem­bers are at work — includ­ing the 131st Engi­neers — but wide­spread dam­age to the state’s road sys­tem has left many res­i­dents sep­a­rat­ed from jobs and out­side ser­vices. The fall leaf sea­son that nor­mal­ly draws thou­sands of tourists here and the win­ter ski sea­son — both impor­tant to the state’s econ­o­my — are also immi­nent.

The Maine Nation­al Guard “feels incred­i­bly hon­ored to assist in the recov­ery oper­a­tion to the peo­ple of Ver­mont, over­com­ing these seri­ous infra­struc­ture dam­ages,” said Army Lt. Col. Nor­mand Michaud, com­man­der, 133rd Engi­neer Bat­tal­ion.

The Maine Engi­neer Task Force — about 200 Maine Army and Air Nation­al Guard mem­bers — respond­ed with­in 36 hours to the state of Ver­mont request, Michaud said, bring­ing 169 pieces of heavy engi­neer­ing equip­ment — includ­ing D7 bull­doz­ers, 20-ton dump trucks and exca­va­tors — to assist the peo­ple of Ver­mont.

While much of Ver­mont was spared the worst of Hur­ri­cane Irene and is open for busi­ness as usu­al, key east-west roads in the state’s famed cen­tral moun­tains are closed. Res­i­dents dis­cuss ago­niz­ing work com­mutes that include detours into sur­round­ing states to try to work around road clo­sures. Impor­tant truck­ing cor­ri­dors are impass­able.

“It’s about recon­nect­ing peo­ple to their jobs, to their gro­ceries,” Sear­les said. “It’s also about com­merce.”

The topog­ra­phy that gives Ver­mont its scenic beau­ty — rugged moun­tains, steep val­leys, nar­row streams and low-lying pas­tures — also brings the state’s great­est chal­lenges. When four miles of Route 107 — includ­ing one riv­er-eat­en stretch about a mile long — were dam­aged by the flood­ing, it cut off some com­mu­ni­ties com­plete­ly and added many hours and dozens of miles to the rou­tine dri­ves of even those who could get out of their towns.

“It’s the biggest event in my life­time, for sure,” Sear­les said. “It’s been com­pared to the flood of 1927 and … there are a cou­ple of rivers that have exceed­ed 1927 water lev­els,” which claimed 85 lives.

“We know a lot more about how to deal with these sorts of things and save lives than we did back then,” he said. But Irene wreaked hav­oc with essen­tial infra­struc­ture.

“The com­par­isons with 1927 are valid,” he said.

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