Kansas Guard Troops Respond to Tornado Disaster

By Maj. DeAnn Barr, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

GREENSBURG, Kan., May 9, 2007 - Within four hours of the deadly tornado that struck this town under the cloak of darkness, Kansas National Guard servicemembers were called to duty to bring relief to their devastated neighbors.

Before the sun rose May 5 to allow responders to clearly see the extent of damage, 15 security forces personnel from the Kansas Air National Guard in Wichita were on the scene, providing law enforcement assistance to local authorities.

"We arrived to utter devastation," said Master Sgt. Frank Cook, one of the first-wave responders with the 184th Security Forces Squadron, 184th Air Refueling Wing, Kansas Air National Guard, McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. "We worked to make a difference and protect what little property these people have left."

The Air Guard security forces were joined by about 30 soldiers from the Battery E, 161st Field Artillery, Kansas Army National Guard, from Great Bend, Kan.

The state's new C2V Mobile Incident Response Vehicle was mobilized early May 5 and placed next to the Greensburg Court House, one of the few buildings in the town left standing. Air Force Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting, the adjutant general of Kansas and the director of emergency management, was on site in the early hours, setting the stage for timely communication response in support of local authorities.

"We were fully operational within 12 minutes of arriving, and had on-board computers, phones, satellite internet, UHF, VHF, HF and 800 MHz radios. Emergency management personnel and the highway patrol utilized the vehicle extensively throughout the recovery," said Sgt. John Staiert, a Kansas Army Guardsman from Joint Forces Headquarters in Topeka.

Also on the first wave of responders from the Kansas Air Guard was the 134th Air Control Squadron from McConnell Air Force Base. Their 15 personnel arrived on the scene during the wee hours following the EF-5 tornado that hit Greensburg head-on at 9:45 p.m. May 4, bringing with them many mobile communication assets.

In short order, they established a command center complete with power, phones, video and teleconferencing capabilities. Generators, lights, water, fuel, a wrecker and heavy equipment operators also were on site.

"The connection, coordination, and communication between the Air Guard and our Army counterparts have been fantastic," said Air Force Maj. Tim Smith, 134th ACS and on-site commander for the Kansas Guard resources.

In response to numerous national and local media flocking to the area, the 184th Air Refueling Wing also sent a four-person public affairs team. They facilitated news conferences hosted by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and other officials.

"Kansans are resilient," Sebelius said as she toured the area the evening of May 6. "I am so thankful for the prayers of not only Kansans, but from people across the nation."

Air Guardsman Senior Airman Shane Clarke of Derby, Kan., has been a security forces troop for four years, but this was the first disaster he was called to serve in.

"I got the initial phone call at 3 a.m., and at first I was nervous because I didn't know exactly what was going on. Once I went in and learned the full situation, I was eager to lend a hand. I want to help these people who must feel helpless and a little desperate. I want to let them know we care."

Kansas National Guard personnel, along with local, state and federal emergency management agencies, will remain in the area throughout cleanup and recovery.

(Maj. DeAnn Barr is assigned to Kansas Air National Guard Public Affairs.)

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