By Danielle DeSimone
Hurricane season is in full swing, and communities along the east coast are dealing with the aftermath of incredibly powerful storms. On September 28, 2022, Hurricane Ian, a category 4 storm, made landfall in Florida and left destruction in its wake.
As the local communities along the coast begin to assess the damage caused by Hurricane Ian, the Coast Guard and National Guard have sprung into action to help in the storm’s aftermath.
Working in hurricane relief efforts takes not just a physical toll, but an emotional one as well. These National Guard and Coast Guard members are witnessing the destruction of their communities and rescuing their neighbors under dangerous conditions, all while worrying about their loved ones left behind.
To support them during this stressful mission, as well as to express the gratitude of the American people, the USO is right there alongside those called to duty, every step of the way.
Coast Guard and National Guard Activate for Hurricane Ian Response
Hurricane Ian has been described as “catastrophic” and possibly the most devastating storm in Florida’s history. With winds up to 150 mph and life-threatening storm surges, the hurricane was nearly a category 5 storm, the most dangerous status of a hurricane.
In anticipation of the storm, the Florida National Guard activated 5,000 members – in addition to 2,000 members of the Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina National Guards – to support the disaster response.
The Florida National Guard was standing by with 16 helicopters, 1,640 high-wheeled vehicles, seven boats, 36 fuel tankers and generators to conduct search and rescue operations, clear roads and support law enforcement in the aftermath of the storm. Distribution sites were designated in advance for Guard members to hand out food and water to residents, and a satellite system was set up in case of damage to phone towers and loss of electricity.
“We want to save as many lives as possible and really mitigate any suffering as quickly as possible,” said Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau before the storm’s arrival.
As Hurricane Ian quickly approached the shore, members of the Coast Guard were ready to help the Florida communities, preparing vessels and aircraft to provide aerial, search and rescue, and logistical assistance as needed.
The devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Ian has been widespread. As of Oct. 3, 2022, more than 100 deaths had been attributed to the hurricane. Thousands of residents have been displaced; roads, homes and businesses have been destroyed; 1.6 million were left without electricity or access to clean water.
As local Florida communities assess the damage and begin the lengthy process of recovering from this natural disaster, the U.S. military has stepped up to help.
Since Hurricane Ian’s passing, members of the Coast Guard and the National Guard, alongside local law enforcement and fire crews, have rescued over 2,500 people and hundreds of pets who have been left stranded in areas that are completely surrounded by water. These search and rescue efforts involve everything from air crews scanning the ground and rescuing people by helicopter, wading through dangerous waters to pull people from their destroyed homes, traveling by boat on flooded streets to help those stranded and more.
In addition to also conducting search and rescue efforts of their own the more than 5,000 members of the National Guard have assisted local communities in everything from distributing water, food and supplies to those affected, to evacuating residents safely from their damaged homes, to clearing roadways of dangerous debris.
The USO Provides Support in the Wake of Hurricane Ian
As the National Guard and Coast Guard support the Florida community, the USO is there to support military members as they work in the disaster zone. Even before Hurricane Ian hit the Florida coast, the USO was preparing and staging supplies in Virginia and other parts of Florida to be ready to hit the ground running as soon as it was safe to do so.
As the Coast Guard immediately leapt to action and began search and rescue efforts, the USO organized a hot meal for Coasties to relax and refuel after long days out on the water.
Then, on Oct. 2, 2022, the USO deployed one of its Mobile USO vehicles, as well as the USO-Kroger Mobile Food Vehicle, to Florida. Upon arrival, these teams will immediately get to work in supporting troops on the ground.
Acting as “USO centers on wheels,” the Mobile USO units and the teams that operate them bring a touch of home and a sense of normalcy to service members working in the wake of natural disasters. These state-of-the-art sprinter vans and truck trailers can travel to multiple locations over a short period of time, meeting service members where their duties take them.
In addition to offering classic USO amenities like Wi-Fi, gaming and other forms of entertainment, Mobile USOs are also stocked with snacks, water and sports drinks to keep service members properly fueled and hydrated so they can be on their A-game during their mission. Mobile USOs also often host small morale-boosting events, like special hot meals, so service members can take a short break between their demanding shifts helping with the relief effort.
The USO-Kroger Mobile Vehicle – created in partnership with Kroger, America’s largest grocer – is an adaptation of our USO Mobile Vehicles and is fully outfitted with a mobile kitchen unit. While in Florida, this vehicle will be used to support troops through hot meals while they undertake hurricane relief missions.
Seemingly simple at first glance, the support the USO offers service members, thanks to the support of our generous donors, can make all the difference during natural disaster relief efforts.
It’s important to remember that for many members of the National Guard and Coast Guard who are currently leading search and rescue efforts, Florida is their home. They are members of the communities that have been worst affected by the storm. As waters rose and winds ripped through the streets at more than 150 mph, these military members had to leave their families behind to go rescue others in need.
That’s why, with downed cell towers and no electricity, access to free Wi-Fi via a Mobile USO Vehicle means that a soldier can finally call their spouse back home, letting them know they’re safe. After long shifts of wading through hazardous waters to rescue people from flooded houses, a Coastie can take a moment to refuel before returning to the mission at hand.
Natural disaster relief is stressful, exhausting work – especially when it is affecting your own community. By providing service members on the ground with the supplies and opportunities to take a moment for themselves, they can recharge and be better equipped as they go back into the field. And most importantly, they’ll know that the USO and the American people have their backs through it all.
As long as service members continue their work in Hurricane Ian relief, the USO will be right there, supporting them through their mission.
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