November 20, 2012

Leading Soldiers in Hurricane Sandy relief efforts

Written by:

To most I am simply Joe Linhart, a Senior CPD Representative in the Newark Field Office.  But to my Soldiers though I am CPT Linhart, Assistant Operations Officer for the 1-258 Field Artillery.

Though I don’t always talk about my experiences in the service, the story of my battalion’s involvement in the relief efforts for Hurricane Sandy is one I am pleased and moved to tell.  The actions of the Soldiers were nothing short of heroic, and I only hope I can let everyone know how amazingly they performed when they were really needed.

My battalion was activated on October 28, 2012 by order of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. We were tasked with the mission of providing domestic support of civil authorities.  As the Assistant Operations Officer, I helped set up and man our tactical operations center at our armory in Jamaica, Queens.  However, the job I did pales in comparison to what we as leadership asked our Soldiers to perform.  As we were deployed on such short notice, our battalion ended up being the first National Guard unit to move into the hardest hit areas of the Rockaways, Coney Island, and Staten Island.  They essentially drove out of the armory right as the hurricane was about to make landfall, leaving their own families behind to help save others.

Although we remained activated for two and half weeks, those first 96 hours were the roughest, and obviously the most critical.  In partnership with the Fire Department of New York and the New York Police Department, we launched a massive search and rescue operation to try and evacuate from the rising tide as many people as possible .  I cannot overstate the danger that both the Soldiers and emergency responders found themselves in.  The waters were deep, cold, and contaminated by everything from gasoline to raw sewage.  And yet, for almost four days and nights straight the soldiers went out to evacuate as many people as possible, sleeping in vehicles and eating MREs, only to go back out again  to help some more.  They evacuated nursing homes, families, and even found one guy trapped in his basement using a straw to stay alive.

Despite being witness to so much, our Soldiers never complained.  They remained focused and professional, and continued to do the job that was asked of them.  After search and rescue, we shifted the focus of our operations to life sustainment, working alongside agencies like the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Salvation Army to distribute everything from food and water to gas and blankets in Brooklyn and Queens.  We even had soldiers working alongside the Department of Sanitation picking up debris from the roadside in the Rockaways.  In sum, our battalion was responsible for:

  • 170 search and rescue missions in Staten Island and the Rockaways
  • 800 people and 12 pets rescued or evacuated, including many elderly, disabled, or sick from places like Sea Crest Nursing Home and Rockaway Care Facility
  • 8 remains respectfully recovered to be returned to their loving families
  • 10 vehicles recovered including 3 emergency management vehicles
  • 450,000 meals distributed to 10 locations amongst Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Manhattan
  • 35 mattresses and bed frames delivered to New Surfside Nursing Home
  • 3 cell phone tower power cells exchanged
  • 11,000 gallons of fuel distributed to 571 cars and 844 people in Queens
  • 12,072 total available man-hours focused toward conducting traffic control, presence patrols, house damage surveys, tree and debris removal in partnership with FDNY and NYPD through hurricane conditions and flood waters as much as four feet deep
  • 150 light sets, 100 generators, and 100 water pumps offloaded at Citi Field and prepared for distribution
  • 475 cases of food and 550 cases of water delivered to 475 apartments across 25 buildings of co-op and public housing in the Rockaways
  • 35 truckloads of debris removed from a 50 block radius in the Rockaways
  • 2 light medium tactical vehicles  of cleaning supplies distributed to 200 residents from Red Fern Housing

I cannot stress how proud I am to be an officer in this battalion and help lead soldiers who perform so selflessly in the face of obvious danger.  As I said, the best way I know how to honor them is to ensure that such actions do not go unnoticed, but rather are celebrated and appreciated by everyone.

Over the coming weeks and months, I will also be proud of the work we do at HUD as we work equally as hard and heroically to help people rebuild their lives.

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