600 Kansas Guard members head for storm zone

Published 1:22 pm Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The first of two waves of Kansas National Guard units was leaving Tuesday to help Gulf Coast states recover from Hurricane Gustav.

The units were heading to areas similar to where they deployed in 2005 after Katrina, which caused extensive damage to New Orleans and Mississippi. In all, some 600 members were heading Tuesday and Wednesday to the region to help restore communications and direct relief efforts.

National Guard spokeswoman Sharon Watson said the mission was continuing even though the damage from Gustav wasn’t as severe as had been expected. The storm hit the Gulf Coast on Monday and was downgraded Tuesday to a tropical depression, dumping heavy rain across Louisiana and Texas.

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As cleanup begins from Gustav, five Kansas emergency management staff members were preparing to leave Mississippi and head to Georgia or the Carolinas as Hanna approaches.

“Basically they were getting new information about the new hurricanes they anticipate will hit the East Coast,” Watson said.

Watson said Kansas also was sending a high-tech vehicle to the Gulf Coast to help restore and provide communications. The vehicle was put into service in May 2007 after a tornado wiped out much of Greensburg in southern Kansas and destroyed much of the town’s communications network.

Four Kansas National Guard liaison officers went to Louisiana over the weekend, while another went to Texas to prepare for fellow troops slated to leave Tuesday and Wednesday. Watson said soldiers have been told to expect to be in the Gulf Coast region for 10 to 15 days.

Units mobilized for storm duty include the 35th Infantry Division from Fort Leavenworth; the 169th Corps Support Sustainment Battalion based in Olathe; about 350 members of the 2nd Battalion, 137th Infantry Division, based in Kansas City, Kan.; the 108th Aviation Battalion from Topeka.

About 150 soldiers will be stationed at Camp Beauregard, near Alexandria. The 169th CSSB will send 100 people to England Air Park to receive incoming relief units and prepare them for missions across the state. An additional 350 from the infantry battalion will provide security, conduct rescue missions and distribute relief supplies.

In 2005, Kansas sent the 35th Infantry’s headquarters to Louisiana, where it helped coordinate the relief and recovery efforts that poured into that state. The unit recently returned from a peacekeeping mission to Kosovo.

Soldiers from the 635th Armored Battalion based in Manhattan also were leaving Tuesday.

There are about 500 soldiers from the Kansas National Guard deployed to combat missions around the globe, but Watson said personnel wasn’t an issue in helping other states. There are about 6,500 to 7,000 Guard members still available for deployment.

“The issue with shortages sometimes arise with equipment. We’re still short on some equipment and we have to look at what resources that we have and what we can provide,” Watson said. “If one state is low, we don’t want them to send their last piece of equipment.”

On the Net:

Kansas National Guard: http://www.kansas.gov/ksadjutantgeneral