(Dec. 21, 2012) As 2012 comes to a close, the National Guard ends a year in which it was kept busy throughout with several natural disasters, including battling raging wildfires, picking up the pieces after multiple tornadoes and evacuating citizens in the wake of two hurricanes.
When springtime tornadoes affected 10 Midwest and southern states in three days, the National Guard provided search-and-rescue operations, debris removal, traffic control points and presence patrols within hours after the severe weather.
In Kentucky, the response was so swift that a state trooper there remarked that it was the timeliest response he had ever seen.
At least 39 people were killed and many were injured as a result of the tornadoes.
Just a few months later near Fort Collins, Colo., the High Park wildfire had burned through about 46,000 acres, according to reports on June 11. National Guard soldiers and airmen would continue working alongside civilian first responders to battle the blaze as it destroyed personal property and acres of forest.
Guard members and civilian firefighters on the ground contained the wildfire several weeks later as a result of the support of the Air National Guard’s Modular Airborne Firefighting System-equipped C-130 Hercules aircraft.
In addition to Colorado wildfires, MAFFS aircrews responded to wildfires across the western U.S.
MAFFS aircrews dropped more than 2.4 million gallons of water and fire retardant to battle wildfires in 10 states as requested by the U.S. Forest Service, said officials. They also reported 2012 as the second busiest season, only surpassed by the 1994 wildfire season.
Unfortunately, the MAFFS crews experienced tragedy this year when MAFFS 7 from the North Carolina Air Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing crashed near Edgemont, S.D., on July 1, while suppressing the White Draw wildfire. Four of the six crewmembers on board were killed.
Officials said it was the first major incident in the history of the more than 40-year old program.
It was also a busy year for Guard members responding to hurricanes in 2012.
Hurricane Isaac, the first hurricane of the season, made landfall along the Gulf Coast states of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi Aug. 29, causing major flooding and forcing many residents of the region to evacuate their homes.
By Sept. 4, the remnants of the storm had moved up into the Mississippi River valley, and Pentagon press secretary George Little commended the hard work of the 3,600 Guard personnel who were still on duty at the time.
Guard members and civilian first responders evacuated more than 3,400 residents and distributed pallets of food and water at key distribution centers throughout the affected areas.
Isaac was not the only hurricane Guard members responded to this year.
After Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New York and New Jersey at the end of October, Guard soldiers and airmen in 12 states were on the ground assisting local authorities with priority missions such as search-and-rescue operations, food, water and fuel distribution, debris removal and providing security and shelter areas for victims of the storm.
On Nov. 1, more than 9,100 Guard members were responding to the damage left by the storm and the governors of 16 states and the mayor of the District of Columbia had declared states of emergency.
While Sandy’s rains and winds left damage along the Eastern Seaboard, West Virginia was hit with multiple feet of snow as Sandy collided with an easterly moving cold front that moved into the area at the same time.
Many affected by Sandy expressed their deep-felt gratitude for Guardsmen’s efforts through Twitter messages and spray-painted signs in areas such as New Jersey.
This year also saw change in the National Guard, specifically its senior leadership when Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, retired Oct. 19 at the St. Frances Barracks in St. Augustine, Fla., after 38 years of service.
McKinley made history when he was promoted to general after legislation in 2008 made the chief’s position a four-star billet. He again made history earlier this year when the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act made the position a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Gen. Frank Grass took over the duties as chief and was promoted to his current rank on Sept. 7, after being confirmed on July 19 by the Senate.
His former assignment was as the deputy commander of U.S. Northern Command and vice commander of U.S. Element, North American Aerospace Command.
The Senate also confirmed Air Force Lt. Gen. on July 19 as the vice chief, a position re-established by NDAA 2012, and promoted him to his current rank.
Lengyel, who had previously served as the senior U.S. defense official in Egypt, was promoted to lieutenant general on Aug. 21, becoming the first three-star vice chief in National Guard history.
Meanwhile, as the year comes to an end more than 33,000 Guardsmen continue to serve overseas in places such as Afghanistan, the Balkans, Djibouti, Guantanamo Bay, Honduras, Kuwait and the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt.