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Fort Carson troops wrap up Harvey work, brace for Irma

September 8, 2017 Updated: September 8, 2017 at 4:00 am
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Fort Carson soldiers help load supplies as part of mission to provide hurricane relief in Texas. The Department of Defense is conducting Defense Support of Civil Authorities operations in response to the effects of Hurricane Harvey. DSCA operations are part of the DOD's response capability to assist civilian responders in saving lives, relieving human suffering and mitigating property damage in response to a catastrophic disaster. (U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew Keeler / 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

A team of Fort Carson soldiers is wrapping up disaster response work in Texas and readying to race to Florida to do battle with Hurricane Irma.

Nearly 100 soldiers from the post's 4th Sustainment Brigade have managed rescue and supply operations through the southeast Texas hurricane zone. Their Hurricane Harvey job wrapped up Thursday, but with storms on the horizon, there's no time to relax, Col. Geoff Kent told The Gazette.

"We were able to scope down our requirements for Texas, but then we start looking and thinking about Florida and the Carolinas," said Kent, who took command of the brigade last month.

Kent hasn't received orders to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, expected to hit Florida this weekend and continue north up the East Coast. But if the Army is called to help, Kent's brigade will likely be the first to get the call.

The brigade is made of truck drivers, mechanics, communications and logistics experts who follow behind the Army's fighting units in war. In peacetime, the brigade is on the front lines for disasters thanks to its association with U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs.

That command, at Peterson Air Force Base, coordinates Pentagon help for local governments dealing with disasters. The command called on Kent's troops to help coordinate 240 Army trucks sent to Hurricane Harvey to haul supplies to flooded neighborhoods and rescue locals.

"It's been a good response and a good effort for our team down there," Kent said.

The movement control team and headquarters troops from Fort Carson moved into San Antonio last week and have fanned out across a wide expanse.

They've orchestrated scores of rescues and hundreds of deliveries.

"We were charged with the command, control and oversight of more than 800 soldiers," Kent said.

While Kent oversaw the troops, he was working for civilians. The Federal Emergency management Agency and Red Cross volunteers called many of the shots.

One of the challenges Kent faced was determining safe routes for his trucks in a changing landscape where rising and falling floodwaters kept planners on their toes.

"It's a very complex mission," he said.

While they traveled to Texas to support hurricane victims, Kent's troops were surprised by the support they were given by locals. Soldiers were on the receiving end of plenty of gratitude and an overwhelming amount of home-cooked food.

"They swarmed all over us, and they wanted to serve soldiers," Kent said of the locals. "It was extraordinary."

In Texas, the Fort Carson soldiers are handing off the remaining work to National Guard troops. Kent said Texas has big Guard logistics units that can handle the job.

During their brief downtime, the Fort Carson troops are double-checking their gear and studying the situation in Florida.

Northern Command has begun marshaling assets in anticipation of the storm, including a large Navy contingent.

"The amphibious ships USS Kearsarge and USS Oak Hill, along with the Marines of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit are positioned in the region in order to respond, if requested," the command said Thursday.

Also Thursday, the USS Wasp arrived in the Virgin Islands. The amphibious assault ship sent its helicopters to evacuate hospital patients from St. Thomas to St. Croix and conduct a damage assessment.

But the scope of Irma could require more military help. The Carson brigade says it is ready.

"We are preparing soldiers and making sure they have everything in place at home and making sure we are ready to respond if we are called forward," Kent said.

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Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

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