Texas Guard Gears Up as Storm Approaches

By Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
Special to American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., July 22, 2008 - As Tropical Storm Dolly beat a northwestward path over the Gulf of Mexico toward southern Texas and Mexico, at least 600 Texas National Guard members prepared for storm duty today after being called yesterday by Gov. Rick Perry.

Meteorologists expect the storm to reach hurricane strength -- with damaging winds, heavy rains and coastal flooding -- by tomorrow.

Officials said Perry authorized the call for up to 1,200 Texas military personnel, including the Army and Air National Guard and State Guard, to assist civilian emergency responders preparing for the first storm to threaten the United States this hurricane season. A contingent of State Guard volunteers based out of Weslaco in the Rio Grande Valley was available for duty.

Guard members are preparing equipment as the storm approaches. Units are staging equipment in Austin, Houston and San Antonio, with orders to be fully mission-capable by noon tomorrow, Army Col. Bill Meehan, Texas National Guard spokesman, said.

The National Weather Service reported that Dolly was expected to become a hurricane, with sustained winds of at lease 74 mph, before making landfall tomorrow afternoon. Storm watches were in effect this morning from Brownsville in southern Texas up the Gulf Coast to Port O'Conner. As of 11 a.m., tropical force winds of more than 65 mph extended out to 160 miles from the storm's center.

Officials also predict rain accumulations of four to eight inches, with isolated deluges of 15 inches, over much of southern Texas during the next few days. Coastal flooding of four to six feet above normal tide levels, with dangerous battering waves, was predicted north of the storm's landfall.

The Texas National Guard's Joint Operations Center is maintaining contact with the State Operations Center as both monitor the storm.

Texas Guard officials said they are deploying their state's soldiers and airmen from outside the predicted impact zone to allow affected Guard members to prepare and protect their own families and businesses.

The Guard is preparing to conduct search and rescue operations, provide transportation, and deploy medical teams to support the state's first responders, Meehan said. Guard members also will provide communications, engineering and security support if needed, he added.

Meehan said the state also is deploying more than 3,000 soldiers from the 56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team this weekend for Operation Iraqi Freedom. And Guard members are still planning to conduct Operation Lone Star, a medical and humanitarian support operation along the Mexican border. They expect to treat nearly 15,000 Mexican residents.

The National Guard continually trains, coordinates and exercises with local and state emergency responders nationwide. More than 400,000 Guard soldiers and airmen are available nationwide, because of Emergency Management Assistance Compacts, should any governor ask for their support.

In September, 250 Texas Guard members mobilized for Hurricane Humberto. It made landfall just east of the Louisiana border as a tropical storm, killing one and causing an estimated $50 million in damage.

Texas Guard members also were mobilized last summer for Tropical Storm Erin, which was downgraded to a tropical depression, and nearly 4,700 Guard members mobilized in August for Hurricane Dean, a deadly Category 5 hurricane, which missed the United States and blew into Mexico.

(Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith serves at the National Guard Bureau.)

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