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Hurricane Irma Required Historic Florida National Guard Response

Staff Sgt. Carmen Fleischmann
Florida Army National Guard
Army Sgt. Jonathan Mazella, a swift water tech, encounters severe damage in Scout Key while on a maritime reconnaissance mission with the Florida National Guard's Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear Emergency Response Force.

Just like 2004 and 2005 – Florida will remember 2017 as the year of hurricanes especially Hurricane Irma. It was a year that the Florida National Guard learned some new lessons in disaster response.

Florida activated its National Guard troops days before Hurricane Irma made landfall on Sept. 10 in the Florida Keys.

“It was the largest Florida National Guard response ever,” said Col. John Pelleriti, director of military support for the Florida National Guard.

He said more than 7,700 Florida Guard, plus 2,200 guardsmen from 22 other states and about 1,000 active duty forces from the Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy were mobilized.

“First time ever, that I know of, we were able to employ a carrier strike group the USS Iwo Jima and the USS New York down in Monroe County,” Pelleriti said. “We were able to employ about 100 trucks, active duty Army vehicles from Fort Bragg, North Carolina.”

Pelleriti added that Hurricane Irma was the first time Florida used a fully integrated response of guard, reserves and active duty military together. While not “perfect,” he said,  the system paid off especially when they had to open 350 additional shelters because of the storm’s size and mass evacuations.

Not only did the Florida Guard respond to Irma, Pelleriti said, as of December, dozens of guardsmen were still in Puerto Rico helping after it was decimated by Hurricane Maria.

“We still have some members of Red Horse, which is an Air National Guard engineering element, and they had responsibilities for the disaster response bed-down system running that for responders over in Puerto Rico. We still have a handful of them over there as well as two army Blackhawk helicopter crews.”

Bobbie O’Brien has been a Reporter/Producer at WUSF since 1991. She reports on general news topics in Florida and the Tampa Bay region.