California, Louisiana Receive Outside Help to Support Natural Disaster Response
Both states have units deployed that would otherwise be helping in their efforts.
California and Louisiana are experiencing major natural disasters this week and have received support from National Guard units from other states in part because they have units currently deployed overseas.
California’s 40th Combat Aviation Brigade is deployed to the Middle East as is Louisiana’s 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, National Guard officials from those states told reporters on Wednesday.
“The primary mission of our National Guard is to fight and win our nation’s wars, and we’re manned, trained and equipped to do so. And it’s those capabilities that allow us the ability to respond to our communities when they need us most,” said Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the chief of the National Guard Bureau about the units’ deployments. “First and foremost that’s their federal mission, which is most important.”
The effects of climate change on the United States have made the National Guard a force that responds not just to federal missions, but also to local emergencies more often.
“We have already seen anecdotal evidence for increased demand for domestic support. If you track the number of days the National Guard was needed to provide support for civil authorities, last year was the highest year on record,” said Richard Kidd, the deputy assistant defense secretary for environment and energy resilience, in an August interview.
The National Guard and states that are prone to hurricanes meet during a conference in the summer to look at which units are deployed and find units from other states that can come fill those roles if needed, Hokanson said. California and its continuous wildfire season joined these discussions this year.
For California, 10 states have contributed forces to help fight the fires, most of them sending aviation units, Army Maj. Gen. David Baldwin, the adjutant general of the California National Guard, said to reporters Wednesday. Even hurricane-struck Louisiana sent aviation support.
“The fire situation remains pretty dire. We have 16 major fires burning throughout the state,” Baldwin said.
Over 2,500 California Guard members are conducting emergency response and law enforcement operations throughout the states, with 1,358 who are helping firefighting efforts. They are also receiving help from the U.S. Air Force Reserve and just received an active duty Army battalion from Fort Lewis in Washington State to help with firefighting efforts.
Louisiana is expecting to have more than 8,000 National Guard members as of Thursday supporting the state after it was hit Sunday by Hurricane Ida, a Category Four hurricane. The hurricane hit on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a storm that also struck when the 256th Infantry Brigade was away.
“I want to let the soldiers and airmen who are deployed know that while they’re taking care of their federal mission and serving our nation, we’re at home, we’ve got their backs and we are going to take care of the home front. We look forward to their safe return soon,” said Army Maj. Gen. Lee Hopkins, assistant adjutant general of the Louisiana National Guard, who was deployed with the brigade 16 years ago.
Louisiana has mobilized all its available Guard members and they expect to be working at their peak for the next two to three weeks until power and water starts to return to citizens, Hopkins said. Fifteen states have promised to help Louisiana, with people starting to arrive Tuesday, and more states have offered support as well.
Both Baldwin and Hopkins said the planning conference enabled the support they are receiving from other states. Baldwin, however, noted that California’s National Guard is small relative to the population it supports. There is about one Guardsman for every U.S. citizen, but in California, there is one for every 147 citizens.
“And we’re in a state that is constantly in a state of emergency. So our demand signal is much, much higher and we do see a strain on the formations that we have to go back to the well, time and time again, to respond,” he said.
While Louisiana expects to support their hurricane mission for about the next month, the California Guard expects to be fighting fires—including the Dixie fire, the largest in the state’s history—for several more months, Baldwin said. Last year, the Guard was fighting fires on Christmas Eve.
Patrick Tucker contributed to this report.