A team of Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers is helping fuel critical life functions for Florida residents in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
Four Soldiers from the Milwaukee-based 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade are serving in the emergency operations center in Tallahassee, Florida, the state’s capital, where they are helping the state coordinate and prioritize fuel operations.
"Our main focus is anything that’s life critical, which includes hospitals, nursing homes, and anything that provides life support to civilians," 1st Lt. Justin Hofmann, a logistics officer with the Oak Creek, Wisconsin-based Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 257th Brigade Support Battalion, said.
Hofmann said that some of the fuel support missions they are coordinating are supporting the Florida National Guard’s relief efforts, but the primary mission is to prioritize and get the right kind of fuel to areas with the most critical needs for civilians.
"It definitely makes all of us feel pretty good," Hofmann said. "We’re excited about helping out everyone who is in dire need. These are people who are on life support and in critical care. Just knowing that keeping fuel running to these generators and life support systems is helping them not only sustain life, but have a future, makes us feel better, especially when you’re far away from home."
Hofmann and the other Soldiers on the team bring a wealth of civilian and military skills to this critical effort. Hofmann is not only an Army logistics officer, but he also works in supply chain management as a civilian. First Lt. David Arndt, from Company A, 257th Brigade Support Battalion in Whitewater, Wisconsin, who also has a military logistics background, joined Hofmann on the mission as well as two noncommissioned officers — Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Elflein, from Hofmann’s unit in Oak Creek, and Sgt. Brad Gibbs, from Arndt’s unit in Whitewater. All bring a wealth of knowledge with them.
"Sgt. 1st Class Elflein is very well-experienced in dealing with commodities, fuel, different classes of supply and getting those to Soldiers," Hofmann said. "He also was part of the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts."
Hofmann said his team is the only National Guard entity from outside of Florida working this issue, but they are part of a team of volunteers as well as state and federal employees answering phone calls, taking requests and coordinating fuel deliveries. The demand for fuel is high with some of Florida’s ports initially shut down during the hurricane and many fuel tankers and refineries inaccessible.
"With the power outages, everyone is using generators, and they’re burning quite a bit of fuel," he said. "Some of the civilian networks aren’t able to keep up without coordination from the state and federal government. So that’s where we come into play, so we can prioritize those fuel requests, because there are only so many assets available to the state."
But Hofmann and the team bring just the right skillset to the effort as they fulfill their duties as America’s first military responder in times of emergency. He said they will remain in Florida as long as needed.
"We know that we’re helping those nursing homes," he said. "We’re helping hospitals keep the lights on, keep the life support operations going and taking care of those who weren’t able to evacuate."
The team’s mission is independent of the mission that more than 650 Wisconsin National Guard troops are conducting in Broward County, Florida. Those troops, made up largely of Soldiers from the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, and 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry, are providing security as well as humanitarian aid in southeast Florida. A team of public affairs Soldiers from the Madison, Wisconsin-based 112th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment as well as a chaplain team also left for Florida today to support that mission.
The Wisconsin National Guard simultaneously continues to play an active role in global security operations as the nation’s primary combat reserve. Approximately 270 Airmen from the 115th Fighter Wing deployed to Korea in August, while 110 Airmen from the 128th Air Control Squadron deployed to Southwest Asia in May, and approximately 150 Soldiers and fellow aviators from the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation deployed to Kuwait last spring. However, even with the mobilization to Florida, more than 8,000 additional Soldiers and Airmen from the Wisconsin National Guard remain ready and available to serve our state and nation, if needed.