Hundreds of soldiers from up and down the eastern U.S. are on their way to Fort Bragg to assist in Hurricane Florence relief, if called upon.

Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division, 3rd Infantry Division and 10th Mountain Division, among others, are on their way or preparing to deploy to Fort Bragg to assist local troops and communities, according to the 18th Airborne Corps.

If needed, thousands of soldiers and hundreds of vehicles could be brought to Fort Bragg, said Lt. Col. Mike Burns, a corps spokesman. They will bolster local troops who also have been readying for relief operations.

Burns said federal and state agencies have not requested help from Fort Bragg. But if they do, soldiers would be standing by to provide potentially life-saving aid.

“We want to assure Americans that America’s Army is prepared to respond if they need us,” he said.

At Fort Bragg, soldiers have spent several days preparing for possible relief operations. They’ve readied sandbags, high-wheeled vehicles that can operate in standing water, generators and fuel.

The 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command has staged dozens of vehicles on post, ready to push out to areas hardest hit by the storm if needed. They have also staged vehicles in Linden Oaks, north of Fort Bragg proper.

Department of Defense officials said at least 40 high-wheel vehicles from Fort Bragg were staged for Florence relief operations. Seven helicopters are also being stored in a hurricane-reinforced hangar and could be used in search and rescue or recovery missions.

Burns said the 18th Airborne Corps had issued “deploy,” “prepare to deploy” and “be prepared to deploy” orders to units across Fort Bragg and to units at Fort Stewart, Georgia; Fort Campbell, Kentucky; and Fort Drum, New York.

On Friday morning, the first of those troops from outside Fort Bragg began moving toward the storm.

The 74th Cargo Transfer Company left Fort Campbell with approximately 230 soldiers and 100 vehicles, officials said. The soldiers are prepared to transport and distribute supplies in high water. They are expected to arrive at Fort Bragg early Saturday and will stage at Simmons Army Airfield.

On Thursday, the Air Force general overseeing the Department of Defense response to Florence, Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, said leaders were anticipating the needs of state and local communities ahead of the storm.

O’Shaughnessy, who is the commander of U.S. Northern Command, said they are moving forward so they can respond as soon as a request is made.

As of Thursday afternoon, he said approximately 7,000 troops, including 4,000 National Guard troops and 3,000 active-duty service members, have been readied for relief operations.

Burns said soldiers across the installation were preparing to respond to Florence.

“Every unit on Fort Bragg is contributing in some way,” he said. “Everybody is doing their job.”

The 44th Medical Brigade is staging ambulances and preparing a combat support hospital.

The 16th Military Police Brigade is readying its officers.

And the 20th Engineer Brigade is preparing its forces, including troops capable of quickly constructing bridges.

Burns said soldiers will be prepared to provide food, maintenance, water purification and power generation. Other units could provide aircraft, public affairs soldiers, medical aid and veterinary medicine.

At the Pentagon on Friday, O’Shaughnessy and Kenneth P. Rapuano, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security, outlined the military’s response to Hurricane Florence.

Rapuano said officials had moved ships, aircraft and helicopters from the storm’s path and were working closely with FEMA and other partners to provide support to affected regions.

He said the Department of Defense has a significant presence within the storms path, with 21 major installations in South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. And troops from those installations will be able to respond quickly if needed in their surrounding communities.

“Secretary Mattis has pre-approved all requests for lifesaving and life-sustaining actions in order to make DOD capabilities immediately available to our federal partners,” Rapuano said.

O’Shaughnessy said commanders across the southeast were proactively positioning forces and equipment to be ready.

“Based on the magnitude of this storm, DOD's proactive actions are ensuring that our forces are optimally positioned for immediate response,” he said. “We and the rest of DOD are leaning forward to provide military capabilities in support of FEMA and our state and local partners, while still defending the homeland.”

 

Military editor Drew Brooks can be reached at dbrooks@fayobserver.com or 910-486-3567.