Federal forces were prepared to assist both North and South Carolina, said Lt. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, commander of U.S. Army North and U.S. Northern Command’s Joint Forces Land Component Command.
“We brought together all the resources of the federal side of the military -- Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps,” Buchanan said.
Army North’s higher headquarters, NORTHCOM, is the Defense Department’s synchronizer for defense support of civil authorities, and brought additional capabilities and capacity to the hurricane response efforts. These capabilities included communication support for landlines and cell phone towers, medical units, and five-ton troop transportation trucks with high suspension to maneuver flood waters.
Additionally, a Navy surface group led by the USS Kearsarge departed Norfolk, Virginia, for the open seas, then followed the storm toward the shore and postured near the coast to be ready to provide support off shore.
Acting on lessons learned from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, Army North became fully engaged in response efforts for Hurricane Florence before the storm made landfall, building logistical networks to facilitate rapid lifesaving and sustaining operations.
“While we acknowledge that every natural disaster is distinct, we have learned that coming in early helps tremendously to ensure we are not late” to provide assistance, Buchanan said.
The Army North staff worked closely with forces commanded by Army Maj. Gen. James Ernst of the North Carolina National Guard, who was designated as the dual status commander by the secretary of defense.
“It's my job to coordinate the efforts of both the North Carolina National Guard and the active-duty units that come in,” Ernst said.
The 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command from Fort Bragg commanded key units such as the post’s ad hoc “Task Force Truck” and the 101st Sustainment Brigade as they conducted high water rescue missions across North Carolina’s coastal towns including flood-ravaged Lumberton and Wilmington. Soldiers in tactical vehicles helped rescue displaced residents in waist-high water.
Soldiers from the 74th Composite Truck Company, 129th Combat Support Sustainment Battalion, 101st Sustainment Brigade, 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, conducted high-water rescues in Lumberton from Sept. 17-21.
“It felt really good to help people,” said Army Spc. Mathew Perkins.
Other members of the unit also shared their stories after returning to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, after transitioning remaining missions to National Guard units.
“My job was to keep all our Army vehicles and the vehicles of the [North Carolina National] Guard operational, and we did that,” Army Spc. Rochelle Llorico said. “We saved lives, and the support from the people was overwhelming.”
Army Staff Sgt. Jeremy Allen remembered one family -- a single mom with two young teen daughters.
“They decided to stay because they loved their home. It was everything they had,” Allen said. “We gave them some supplies, and they were resilient. Their story is the American story. We’re stronger when we help each other.”
Army Sgt. Demetri Robinson recalled rescuing three men and a cat. “They were so glad we also saved the cat,” he said. “The people are very grateful, and we’re all united in saving lives.”
In South Carolina, the state established a dual status command headed by Army Maj. Gen. R. Van McCarty. The National Guard postured assets statewide to ensure county emergency planners had resources available for whatever was needed to assist their citizens through the aftereffects of the storm.
Even as the federal military returns some capabilities to home station to resume other DOD missions, Army North remains vigilant, Buchanan said. The command is monitoring continued flooding in the Carolinas as well as two weather systems in the Pacific and four in the Atlantic.
The Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico remain vulnerable following hurricanes Irma and Maria last year, so Army North has prepositioned communications equipment to be postured for the 2018 hurricane season.
While the primary mission of NORTHCOM is defending the American homeland, helping Americans impacted by natural disasters will always be a DOD responsibility, Buchanan said.
“You know, we in the Army have deployed all over the world -- Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Honduras,” he said. “But it is uniquely gratifying when you serve fellow Americans at home.”