National Guard units across the southeast are gearing into action, as Hurricane Idalia moves across northern Florida and sweeps northeast into Georgia and South Carolina.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday fully activated 5,500 Florida National Guardsmen, according to a Guard statement. The 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team in the state is conducting operations in western Florida counties, along with 2,400 high-mobility and high-water vehicles.
“We maintain additional and immediate response forces available to rapidly reinforce our presence and capabilities in areas with the greatest need,” Maj. Gen. John Haas, the Florida Adjutant General, said at a press conference on Wednesday. “We are embedded with each of our emergency operation centers and remain ready to provide support as requested.”
Hurricane Idalia made landfall as a Category 3 Hurricane early Wednesday morning along Florida’s Big Bend, a lightly populated area off the Gulf of Mexico. The Florida Army National Guard deployed more than a dozen helicopters and some two-dozen watercraft around the state to help with reconnaissance and rescue missions in the hurricane’s wake. Assets from other National Guards in Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee are also being sent to Florida, with air assets on standby from Maryland and Colorado.
Georgia and South Carolina are also in the direct path of Idalia, and their guard forces are gearing up to help.
“We are coordinating with the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency to ensure we are postured to respond,” Georgia National Guard spokesperson Lt. Col. Pam Stauffer emailed Military Times. “The Georgia National Guard is ready to pitch in with communications, route clearing, and other capabilities based on the need.”
South Carolina’s National Guard had a contingency force of 75 troops “ready to respond to state missions,” Maj. Karla Evans said by email.
Ahead of the storm, MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida – home to U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command – issued a partial evacuation order and prepared to move some operations to contingency locations as necessary.
The commander of Navy Region Southeast on Tuesday ordered all Navy installations in the Jacksonville, Florida, area to brace for heavy weather conditions. Naval Station Mayport off the Atlantic Ocean started moving ships out of the area.
Joint-Base Charleston in South Carolina is battening down for Idalia’s expected impact on Thursday, bracing for sustained 35 mile per hour winds, according to a statement from the base. But no evacuation had been ordered as of Wednesday afternoon.
“JB Charleston personnel continue to secure property and equipment that maybe exposed to storm conditions,” the statement said. “Base personnel and residents should prepare for the arrival of the storm and assess their own personal hurricane preparedness.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs also took steps to warn veterans in the line of the hurricane. The VA reached out to more than 650,000 veterans in the coastline region with information on prescription rules, emergency outreach assistance and other VA services they may need. VA Secretary Dennis McDonough told veterans in the hurricane’s path to follow orders from emergency management services.
“Our team is working overtime to make sure that all of our vets are taken care of and moved to safer ground,” he said on Tuesday, ahead of the storm’s landfall. “Any of our vets who are worried about listening to local authorities and leaving their homes, rest assured that your VA benefits will travel with you.”
The VA activated the department’s Emergency Prescription Refill Program for veterans enrolled in the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System, North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System, James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, and the Miami VA Healthcare System.
Veterans with questions about specific site access and availability can visit the department’s regional page for more information. Around-the-clock virtual urgent care is also available for the region by calling 877-741-3400.
Zamone “Z” Perez is a rapid response reporter and podcast producer at Defense News and Military Times. He previously worked at Foreign Policy and Ufahamu Africa. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he researched international ethics and atrocity prevention in his thesis. He can be found on Twitter @zamoneperez.