Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Marietta, Georgia. Between September 22 and October 1, 2017, Georgia State Defense Force troops were activated to support the Hurricane Maria relief efforts to help evacuees.
Hurricane Maria caused catastrophic damage and a major humanitarian crisis in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The hurricane severely impacted and damaged the Puerto Rico power grid, leaving all 3.4 million residents without electricity. Initial reports of the damage predicted it could take months before power is completely restored to the entire island. Hospitals are experiencing life-and-death situations to treat their patients without the benefit of electricity or with limited generator power. This created dangerous conditions for critically ill patients. As a result, FEMA and U.S. Public Health officials made the decision to transfer several patients to Continental United States hospitals.
The Georgia State Defense Force was tasked to help. Over sixty soldiers, under the leadership of on-site commander, Lieutenant Colonel Ronald Russell and on-site NCO in charge, Sergeant First Class Steven Stewart, tirelessly worked for ten days and eleven nights. Evacuees from the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, flown by U.S. Air Force aircrafts and some commercial aircrafts were delivered into Dobbins Air Reserve Base. Ambulatory and non-ambulatory were carefully taken off the aircraft, then processed and transported to metro Atlanta medical facilities for follow up care, to include life-saving dialysis treatment.
GSDF soldiers continuously conduct training to improve their skillset in missions such as, search and rescue, transporting casualties (role players) using medevac and cargo aircraft, CPR/First Aid, patient triage, and setting up mobile field hospitals. In March 2017, GSDF soldiers participated in the major state-wide exercise called “Vigilant Guard 2017”. This exercise involved several state and federal agencies that demonstrated collaboration during multiple emergencies. As a result, GSDF soldiers were trained and prepared when called to assist in the Hurricane Maria relief efforts.
“GSDF soldiers did a great job during this real-world medical support mission”, said Lieutenant Colonel Debbie Redling, Commander of the 132nd Medical Battalion who served as mission commander. The organizations involved during the Hurricane Maria relief operations included the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Georgia Department of Public Health, and Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security, several local ambulance companies, and the Georgia State Defense Force.
“The GSDF troops worked shoulder-to-shoulder with other important state and federal agencies. This is what we do. We help people who need our help”, said Colonel Eddie Williams, Commander of the 76th Support Brigade.