About 70 members of the Pennsylvania National Guard were placed on state active duty to support 11 Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) missions in central Pennsylvania during flooding July 23-July 27.
Several days of rain in July left much of central Pennsylvania’s waterways at near-record highs. On July 25, the Swatara Creek near Hershey reached 16.5 feet, the creek’s second-highest level since the National Weather Service started keeping records in 1975. In Grantville, near the Pennsylvania National Guard headquarters at Fort Indiantown Gap, rain totaled 11.4 inches as of July 25.
The flooding led to the activation of the Pennsylvania National Guard to assist in transportation missions. The operation included vehicles capable of traversing high waters, as well as helicopters and crews from the Pennsylvania Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team. This team is a partnership among the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, and PEMA, along with credentialed civilian rescue technicians.
On July 23, the Pennsylvania Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team, based at Fort Indiantown Gap, assisted local law enforcement and first responders in searching for a missing 19-year-old woman in the Conewago Creek of Dauphin County. The aircraft was in the air for 1.5 hours and then had to return to base due to weather. The body of the woman was found on July 26 by a civilian who wasn’t involved in the search efforts.
On July 25, Soldiers assisted the Middle Paxton Fire Company with the rescue of a stranded resident from their home, returning them to a temporary shelter at a local fire station. Two Pennsylvania National Guard Soldiers used a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle (LMTV) for this mission.
“Soldiers of the 628th Aviation Support Battalion are always eager to come in and support state active duty,” said CPT Samuel DeBold, operations officer of the 628th. “Their sense of duty and commitment to the people of the [Commonwealth of Pennsylvania] is apparent every time they go on mission. They want to get out there and help in any way they can. Mr. Robert Rusbatch and his first responders of the Middle Paxton Fire Company were a pleasure to work with. We at the 628th Aviation Support Battalion sincerely appreciated his hospitality throughout the mission.”
During state activations, the Pennsylvania National Guard organizes into geographic task forces – Pennsylvania Task Force North, Pennsylvania Task Force South and Pennsylvania Task Force West. These geographic commands are augmented by two functional task forces – Task Force Support and Task Force Aviation.
During the flood emergency, other Pennsylvania Guard members prepared for possible call-ups at their armories and air stations, manned PEMA’s Commonwealth Response Coordination Center in Harrisburg, and monitored and provided oversight to Pennsylvania Guard response operations from the Joint Emergency Operations Center at Fort Indiantown Gap.
By LTC Angela King-Sweigart, Pennsylvania National Guard