MISSISSIPPI (WDAM) - The Mississippi National Guard is deploying over 200 soldiers and airmen in support of hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin islands.
In the last week, the MSNG's 172d Airlift Wing and the Tennessee National Guard's 164th Airlift Wing have transported various equipment and 72 Soldiers of the 298th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, headquartered in Philadelphia, to the islands of St. Croix and St. Thomas from Flowood's Thompson Field.
"The Air Force is doing a huge lift capability. There's a lot of equipment actually being sent by C-17 [Globemaster III] and C-130 [Hercules], and there are multiple states and their Air National Guards that are involved with that," said Lt. Col. Jody M. Smith,director of the MSNG Directorate of Military Support.
Smith said MSNG service members will assist in various logistical support roles on the islands, such as manning dining facilities and maintenance areas, and will provide general operational support to sustain the hurricane relief effort.
"They're taking high water vehicles, they're taking cranes, refueling capabilities,"said Smith. "They're taking generators with them, they're taking cooks, they're taking everything they can to help sustain and improve life for the other individuals on the islands."
Smith said the MSNG also has 23 Airmen from the 172d AW and Meridian's 186th Air Refueling Wing providing support, such as air traffic control, in both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands due to damage to the region's communication systems.
There are also 14 MSNG Airmen providing support in Florida and Texas for hurricane relief efforts.A federal coordinating triage center was established September 22, 2017, in one of the hangars at Thompson Field. It will receive patients from the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico who are in need of medical aid.
"We can take pretty much any kind of injury they send to us, anything from critical care to the walking wounded," said Brian Crowder, a Veterans Health Administration Office of Emergency Management area manager from Houston.
Crowder said the facility is a collaborative effort between the Mississippi Department of Health Services, the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and the Veterans Health Administration Patient Reception Team.
They have only treated 11 patients since the triage center was opened, but can handle anywhere from 50 to 100 patients a day.
"I anticipate that as conditions in the islands steadily improve and conditions at the airports improve, we'll see an increased operational tempo. We'll see more planes and more patients as the days go by," said Crowder.
The funding for these operations comes from the Emergency Management Assistance Compact agreement, the U.S. state-to-state mutual aid system.
"The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and Federal Emergency Management Agency have been instrumental in assisting us with the Emergency Management Assistance Compact and helping us work through the processes so that we can ensure that we do everything legally and that our Soldiers and Airmen are taken care of," said Smith.
Approximately 150 Soldiers of the 298th CSSB and 14 Airmen of the 186th ARW are awaiting transport to the islands. Smith expects MSNG service members to remain on the islands anywhere from 21 to 30 days.
The Mississippi National Guard, comprised of approximately 12,300 Soldiers and Airmen, is commanded by Maj. Gen. Janson D.Boyles, the adjutant general of Mississippi. Its mission is to provide protection of life and property, and uphold the preservation of peace, order and public safety for the citizens of Mississippi, under the leadership and control of the governor.
The National Guard also stands ready to serve for the common defense, under Presidential authority, in times of national emergency or war.