Sgt. Melissa Stewart
3rd Brigade Combat Team Journalist
JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. – Hurricane Sandy, the second-costliest hurricane in American history, hit the Northeast in late October, resulting in more than $50 million in damage. In response to the catastrophic storm, 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldiers deployed to New York City and New Jersey, where they have been working around the clock to support refueling operations throughout the impacted area.
Fort Drum Soldiers from 710th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team; 210th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team; and 10th Combat Aviation Brigade have been working with New York City and New Jersey organizations, as well as National Guard units, for the past week.
“Our mission down here is to provide support of civil authorities in their response (to) the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy,” said Lt. Col. Michael Lalor, 710th Brigade Support Battalion commander.
“Task Force Support, 710th BSB, which includes 710th BSB headquarters, crews and fuelers, and support vehicles, to include recovery, maintenance (and) medical, … also have elements from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Brigade Combat Team and the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade,” Lalor said.
The 10th Mountain Division Soldiers’ mission has been to provide refuel operations to emergency relief vehicles. This mission helps both the relief effort and the civilian population in the area because gasoline has been rationed at local gas stations.
“Originally, our mission was to bring down 55 HEMTT (Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck) fuelers,” Lalor said. “A HEMTT fueler holds at capacity 2,500 gallons of fuel, and we have brought down 59. They are configured to provide regular gasoline, unleaded gasoline and diesel fuel to primarily government vehicles, military vehicles, emergency vehicles, first responder types, doctors and nurses, and to help alleviate gas lines that those enablers and supporters are waiting on and free up gas lines for consumers.”
The mission is a complex distribution of assets across the affected areas.
Support Soldiers with 710th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, are using a training area near Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst as their base of operations. From there, convoys of fuel trucks roll out to various locations affected by the massive hurricane.
“We have teams throughout the New York City and New Jersey area, and right now we have a team at Fort Hamilton, N.Y., which is in Brooklyn,” Lalor said. “We have a team there that’s providing fuel to military vehicles, government vehicles and first responders.”
Soldiers in A Company, 710th BSB, have been operating out of Fort Hamilton. From that base of operations, Soldiers have a fuel point set up for government and emergency response vehicles to receive free fuel to continue responding to needs around the city.
“This is absolutely critical to have (those) fueling operations,” said William Hansel, task force safety officer at Fort Hamilton. “That speeds up operations and keeps the first responders and the people on the ground (able to) accomplish the mission.”
The company also runs daily missions to various locations throughout the city to refuel emergency vehicles that are spearheading the relief and recovery missions throughout the borough of Brooklyn.
“We’re providing some gasoline to emergency responders (and) Department of Defense officials (who) are in the area, as well as providing diesel to them,” said Capt. Johnny Ballam, A Company commander.
On Thursday, one of A Company’s fuel trucks could be seen directly outside of Battery Park in Manhattan, supporting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ mission there by providing them with much-needed fuel for their vehicles.
“That team (is) providing HEMTT fuel on a recurring basis in support of the Army Corps of Engineers Task Force Pump Mission, which is helping (to) alleviate (and) remove water (from) the New York City subway system and train lines,” Lalor said of the team at Fort Hamilton.
Despite the extensive damage to the area caused by the storm, the city and its residents are recovering, with the help of emergency responders and 710th BSB Soldiers.
“It’s New York City; they are very resilient,” Hansel said. “They have been through 9/11. They are recovering. There are some outlying areas … not Manhattan specific, but there are some other areas that are really suffering right now.”
“We were brought here to Fort Hamilton to provide fuel support to emergency vehicles, government personnel, things like that, so they can go out and help the public,” said 2nd Lt. Joseph Feathers, 3rd Platoon leader, Supply Support Activity in A Company, 710th Brigade Support Battalion. “Everyone has been really grateful. They are happy to see us – kind of surprised to see us sometimes.”
While 710th BSB Soldiers received word of this mission only days before deploying, they were able to react quickly and move on with the mission. It took Soldiers approximately 48 hours to receive word of the operation, prepare and move out.
“We came in Saturday afternoon (Nov. 3) – the leadership and the staff – and we began planning through that,” Ballam said. “We mobilized some troops Saturday evening to help prep vehicles. Sunday, all day was preparation and staging. We ended up rolling Monday (Nov. 5), when the official order came out. I think the response time was very rapid; it was very quick, and I think it was efficient.”
Soldiers working from Fort Hamilton are running 24-hour operations at the fuel point. They are living out of two empty apartments that were provided by the military installation and sleeping in cots, sometimes five people to one room. Despite the long work hours and somewhat austere living conditions, the Soldiers remain motivated and ready to assist.
“They are doing great. They are very motivated and happy to be here and help out,” Feathers said.
“I think this is a great opportunity for them to not only support the local community and the community of New York City in a time of need, but it’s a great opportunity for them to do their jobs and their military functions,” Ballam said.
Aside from the team in Brooklyn, there are three teams operating throughout New Jersey, in
West Orange, Freehold and Egg Harbor.
“Those sites are providing, again, fuel support in response to local authorities,” Lalor said. “West Orange and Freehold are linked in with the National Guard Armory, and that’s where our fuelers are supporting the same types of vehicles we have been talking about, but also the National Guard is providing us life support and helping coordinate the mission.”
The fuel point at West Orange is particularly active and integrated. There are Soldiers from 10th Combat Aviation Brigade and 2nd Brigade Combat Team as well as National Guard units and units from across the country. They have all come to the area to provide support where it is needed.
Since it became operational Friday morning, the fuel point at West Orange has provided more than 270 government and emergency vehicles with more than 2,000 gallons of fuel.
“This is excellent, it feels extremely rewarding,” said Staff Sgt. Elias Medina NCOIC of the West Orange fuel point. “This feels (good) to help out my own people.”
At press time, the duration of 10th Mountain’s refuel mission was still undetermined.
“In the short term, we’ll continue to provide support to the civil authorities and continue to enable the recovery process here in New York and New Jersey,” Lalor said. “We look forward to providing support in any way we can. Whether our role expands or not, we’re glad we were able to contribute, make a difference and in our own little way, give back.”
All of the Soldiers at the fuel point are working long hours away from home; however, they remain extremely motivated and are conducting their operations with a smile on their faces.
“I think a lot of (the) reason Soldiers and people like me like doing a mission like this is just to give back,” Lalor said.
As 10th Mountain Division Soldiers, many of the people on this operation have deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq multiple times. This, however, is the first time that many of the Soldiers have ever conducted humanitarian aid missions in their own country.
“I think for us, it’s a unique opportunity to help our own,” Lalor said. “What I mean by ‘our own’ is helping the (American) people who, just like us, from all walks of life inside this country have their lives uprooted in the wake of this hurricane. Our Soldiers are absolutely energized and motivated to come to a place inside the U.S. and help their … brothers and sisters.”