By Danielle DeSimone
Last week, a 1-in-1,000-year flash flood struck eastern Kentucky after torrential rainfall overwhelmed the Appalachia region. As of Aug. 4, 2022, the death toll has reached 37, with hundreds more people unaccounted for and thousands now displaced from their homes. Over 29,000 homes in the state no longer have water, more than 17,000 are without power and thousands of homes have been irreparably damaged.
The devastation of these storms is severe, and with additional rainfall and potential floods on the horizon, the National Guard has been mobilized to help with search and rescue efforts.
“We’ll stay as long as we’re needed,” said Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau.
Hundreds of National Guard members from Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia were activated on July 28, 2022. They have already rescued or relocated more than 500 people, conducting everything from air and water rescues, to evacuations and medical assistance, to delivering much-needed supplies.
“Because we’re manned, trained and equipped to fight our nation’s wars, we can do just about anything our communities ask us to do,” said Kentucky adjutant general, Army Maj. Gen. Hal Lamberton.
For many National Guard members, these rescue operations can be personal. After all, most Guard members work full-time jobs in their local communities, meaning that when called upon to serve in uniform, they are responding to a natural disaster that could have directly impacted their own hometown or loved ones.
Supporting these military communities no matter where their service takes them is crucial, which is why after hearing about the Guard’s activation, the Mobile USO team also sprang into action.
The Mobile USO team runs a fleet of vehicles that are essentially USO centers on wheels. Thanks to the support of our generous donors, these large, state-of-the-art mobile vehicles are outfitted with a large canteen window, free Wi-Fi, TVs, gaming systems, internal and external sound systems, a food-prep area, wheelchair accessibility and air conditioning. They are often deployed to locations of natural disasters where our nation’s National Guard are called upon to serve.
On Aug. 1, 2022, a Mobile USO vehicle quickly traveled to Hazard, Kentucky, to provide critical support to mobilized Guard members working long shifts in the Kentucky flood relief efforts. The Mobile USO teams supplied the National Guard members with snacks, water and sports drinks so they could refuel while resting before their next shift as temperatures continue to rise.
With our Wi-Fi connectivity, service members who have had to leave their families behind and cannot find a cell signal can reach out to loved ones back home and let them know they are ok. These connections to home, as well as USO-hosted activities, are crucial to breaking the tension and boosting morale. It’s essential to keep spirits high as these service members work around-the-clock amidst massive devastation to their communities.
As U.S. Army Pfc. Thomas Mills of the 301st Chemical Company, 103rd Battalion, stood outside of the Mobile USO van, he shared that the location where his unit has been conducting their mission is only a short distance from where he grew up.
“This hits close to home, so it’s really nice to be supporting the mission that’s out here,” Mills said. “Just having the USO Mobile out here [gives] us a nice break.”
Most importantly, through the Mobile USO, service members have a chance to recharge and take a moment to themselves before continuing the challenging mission at hand.
This kind of support – made possible by the backing of generous Americans – can make an incredible impact on the service members undertaking the extremely difficult physical and emotional mission of search and rescue efforts. National Guard members are working against a ticking clock under extreme conditions. In many of the locations in which they are working, there are few – if any – buildings with working air conditioning. Internet connectivity is limited. The conditions of these missions are undeniably difficult and are continuing to evolve.
National Guard members are your neighbors, your teachers, your soccer league coaches. They are everyday members of your hometown who are willing to drop everything to step up and put their lives on the line to serve their communities. And when they are called to do so, no matter the crisis, the USO will be there too.
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