National Guard, DOD support Hawaii's long-term recovery

  • Published
  • By xxxJoseph Clark,
  • DOD News

WASHINGTON - Defense Department personnel remain ready to support Maui residents for the foreseeable future as local officials plot a course for recovery from the Lahaina wildfire, the Hawaii National Guard’s incident commander says.

Army Major Gen. Kenneth Hara, adjutant general for the state of Hawaii and Lahaina wildfire incident commander, said Aug. 31 that nearly 700 DOD personnel are actively supporting response and recovery efforts alongside interagency partners.

He said his team remains engaged with state and local officials to anticipate the community’s needs as recovery operations continue.

“On Day 1 when I talked to the team, I told them our center of gravity is responsiveness,” he said. “And to be able to do that, I told them we need to anticipate needs, and then once we know what those needs are, to organize ourselves and resources ourselves to meet those needs once the ask comes.”

“I also told them we need to move at the pace of unprecedented crisis,” Hara said.

DOD personnel, organized under Joint Task Force 5-0, are conducting nine approved missions. The response, which is led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, includes:

-Providing interisland air/sea transportation. 
-Providing DOD personnel to coordinate with interagency partners. 
-Using Schofield Barracks and support facilities.
-Standing by for aerial fire suppression. 
-Providing strategic transportation. 
-Using U.S. Army Reserve Center-Wailuku as a FEMA incident support base federal staging area. 
-Providing DOD mortuary affairs support. 
-Supporting fuel distribution. 
-Supporting potable water distribution. 

Hara said his team remains engaged with state and local leaders as they plan long-term support for the residents.

The Environmental Protection Agency is leading efforts to clear hazardous waste from residential areas so residents can return to their homes and businesses to recover valuables, Hara said.

That next phase will be planned and coordinated by the county of Maui, he said, and DOD personnel remain ready to support.

Hara said the Army Corps of Engineers will complete debris-clearing operations after residents have had a chance to retrieve valuables. 

“Currently, the state is also supporting disaster recovery and family assistance centers,” Hara said. “They’re looking at long-term transitional housing for the survivors while we’re still doing water distribution missions.”

Officials are also developing long-term disaster mitigation measures to prevent future fires and planning for the eventual rebuilding of the town of Lahaina.

Joint Task Force 5-0, led by Army Brig. Gen. Stephen F. Logan, Hawaii Army National Guard commander, was activated Aug. 11, soon after the fire broke out. The task force reached full operational capacity five days later.

Hara said the task force has had the full support of Navy Adm. John C. Aquilino, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command commander, and Gen. Charles A. Flynn, U.S. Army Pacific commander.

“Both of them called me on Day 1 and said, ‘Whatever you need, whatever you request, the entire Department of Defense — and especially all the capabilities and resources within U.S. Indo-Pacom — will be there to support the state of Hawaii and the county of Maui,” he said.

Separately, National Guard troops from three states have been activated in response to Hurricane Idalia, which brought heavy winds and flooding across Florida, Georgia, and North and South Carolina.

The Category 3 storm brought 125 mph winds as it reached the Big Bend area of Florida’s panhandle Aug. 30 before being downgraded to a tropical storm as it returned to the Atlantic Ocean off North Carolina.

The Florida National Guard has been fully activated and is operating as a joint task force under the direction of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary.

Joint Task Force Florida has positioned 5,344 National Guard personnel, 2,400 high water vehicles, 14 Army National Guard helicopters, 23 watercraft and heavy construction teams throughout the state.

The troops are providing “responsive sustained support to reduce suffering and assist in the restoration of critical services,” Ryder said.

North Carolina had prepositioned 128 National Guardsmen and 51 high water vehicles throughout the state, and almost 100 South Carolina National Guard personnel were supporting recovery operations there.

Additionally, U.S. Northern Command is providing FEMA with a federal staging area at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama and has deployed a coordination element alongside FEMA in Tallahassee, Florida.

“The DOD will remain in close coordination with FEMA, state officials and other supporting agencies as the cleanup and recovery operations continue to develop,” Ryder said.