Top Army humanitarian moments of 2017: providing critical assistance after natural disasters

by Crystal Marshall
U.S. Army

WASHINGTON -- One of the Army's core missions -- global engagement -- was on high display in 2017, and not just in the form of military exercises with allies from Australia to Poland. From treating medical maladies in Djibouti, to providing pediatric care in Honduras and offering veterinary clinics in South Africa, the Army contributed to global and national security through tangible humanitarian assistance.

Of the top Army humanitarian moments of 2017, two stand out in particular -- the Army's response to the hurricanes and wildfires in the United States, showcasing the dedication of the Army National Guard and Reserves to their fellow citizens.

HURRICANES

Within two months -- August and September 2017 -- three major hurricanes battered the southern United States, causing dozens of deaths and billions of dollars in property damage. But dozens of Army National Guard, Reserve, and active duty units from around the country were ready to respond to rescue their fellow citizens and assist in cleanup and recovery efforts.

Just days after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, more than 11,000 National Guard troops had deployed to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency-led rescue and restoration operations in the region. The Army Corps of Engineers actively conducted air and ground post-storm assessments and harbor surveys, and the nearby Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio provided medical treatment for up to 7,000 victims of the hurricane and associated flooding.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, almost 10,000 Army personnel engaged in response and relief operations after the storm battered Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Army National Guard units from as far as Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin deployed to help their fellow citizens in everything from high-water rescues and cleanup operations to managing shelters and temporary medical facilities.

Coming just two weeks after Irma, Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, causing massive landslides and destroying the island's electrical grid. The Army had hundreds of personnel on the ground as soon as relief operations were able to commence, and that number soon swelled to over 14,000. Soldiers provided food, water, and medical treatment to even the most remote areas of the island.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to work in Puerto Rico to provide temporary generators, repair power lines, clean roadways and repair dams.

WILDFIRES

On the opposite coast, California experienced one of the worst wildfire seasons in its history. The Santa Rosa wildfires burned more than 263,000 acres from October 8 to October 22 -- more than the 234,000 acres burned from Jan. 1 to Oct. 8, according to a spokesman from CAL FIRE.

The 49th Military Police Brigade activated its entire command, with more than 1,900 troops responding. Hundreds of military policemen hit the streets, controlling traffic points and other areas of entry. Additional Soldiers performed assistance patrols along hard-hit areas in Napa and Santa Rosa.

In addition to controlling traffic points, troops were sent to help secure emergency shelters. They were sent to schools, colleges, and local businesses to transport food, hygiene and medical supplies to other areas of need. Soldiers united with civilian volunteers to build up a donation site, while others were called to break down evacuation centers once residents were allowed to return to their homes. The task force also utilized its bilingual Soldiers to serve as interpreters at disaster centers where they assisted FEMA representatives helping non-English speaking victims.

The National Guard has also been involved in the ongoing response to the Los Angeles-area wildfires that swept through in December, providing support aircraft and assisting with evacuations and traffic control.

To read more on the Army's months-long response efforts to the hurricanes and wildfires in 2017, please see the links below.

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