Hundreds of New York National Guard members are being deployed to assist in responding to the deadly winter storm that has impacted much of the country, according to a release.
At least 460 troops have already mobilized and more were expected yesterday, bringing the total number of service members battling the ongoing blizzard to about 540.
The Christmas weekend snowstorm has already brought over 50 inches of snow to areas like Buffalo, New York, according to the National Weather Service, with a few more inches still expected to come. As of Wednesday morning, at least 31 deaths related to the storm have been reported in Buffalo alone.
“This is an epic, statewide hazard. There’s no other way to describe this. ... This is having an impact everywhere,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said, according to the release.
So far, soldiers and airmen have rescued 86 people from hazardous situations, the release said, adding that in one case soldiers were able to get a woman to the hospital just before she gave birth.
Lt. Col Justin Couts, the commander of the joint task force in Buffalo, said he expected that more rescues will be recorded as reports continue to come in.
The blizzard assistance comes just a month after New York National Guard members helped state and local authorities respond to another historic winter storm.
Hochul declared a state of emergency ahead of this storm’s arrival and President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration on Monday that authorizes federal assistance to supplement the state’s response. The governor initially tasked about 50 Guard airmen and soldiers to provide transportation assistance for New Yorkers facing emergencies on the road, but the mission quickly called for additional personnel.
The 153rd Troop Command is in charge of the operation, while additional support is coming from the 827th Engineer Company, 105th Military Police Company in Buffalo, the 102nd Military Police Company in Auburn, the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry in Utica, 174th Attack Wing, based at Hancock Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, the 107th Attack Wing at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station and the 42nd Infantry Division, the Guard release said.
The troops responding in New York are currently in a state active duty status, according to spokesperson Eric Durr. Guardsmen on SAD — which is often used for short-term, flexible disaster response missions — are legally considered temporary state employees ineligible for many military benefits.
Any injuries incurred by troops on SAD orders won’t be covered by the Veterans Affairs medical system or considered in disability calculations, nor will the troops’ time count towards the G.I. Bill. Other benefits such as pay and death coverage vary from state-to-state.
In New York, all troops on SAD receive at least E5 base pay and have their military life insurance premiums reimbursed from state funds. But some states, like Texas and its thousands of troops mobilized on SAD for border duty, have no death coverage at all, a Texas Tribune-Military Times investigation found.
The patchwork of state laws governing SAD and its benefits has led some Guard officials to beg lawmakers to pursue “duty status reform” that could standardize National Guard disaster response across the country.
Meanwhile, elsewhere across the country, National Guard members are similarly helping their respective states with cleanup and safety efforts.
In South Dakota, the Associated Press reported that Gov. Kristi Noem deployed National Guard troops to help tribes with gathering firewood and snow removal.
Most residents of Erie County, New York — where Buffalo is located — have regained access to power, according to poweroutage.us, though roadway closures and flight interruptions have further complicated plans for those traveling after the holiday weekend.
Though the most severe elements of the storm have passed, Hochul emphasized the need for residents to remain safe as National Guard members and other emergency teams continue in their response efforts.
“This has been a joint effort, and I want the people of western New York to know, who are frustrated, that we are working so hard, and the people around us are working so hard, and I’m grateful for all of them,” she said during a press conference Monday. “We’ll be getting through this together very soon. I feel confident of that, but the most important thing is please stay at home for the next day.”
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.