The U.S. military has “quite literally surrounded” the East Coast states that Hurricane Florence is expected to hit with personnel and equipment, which are poised to swoop in to help people in need, said Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, head of U.S. Northern Command.
A total of 7,000 U.S. troops have tasked with taking part in relief efforts, of which about 3,000 are active-duty service members, O’Shaughnessy told reporters on Thursday. Thousands of other troops from all military branches have been ordered to prepare to deploy if needed.
Florence is expected to bring heavy rains to North and South Carolina as well as Georgia. The storm could especially drench certain areas if it stalls for several hours, according to the National Weather Service.
The amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge and the amphibious transport dock USS Arlington are close behind the storm and ready to take part in rescue missions, said Navy Lt. Jamie Seibel, a spokeswoman for Fleet Forces Command.
The ships have six MV-22B Ospreys and a total 16 helicopters between them: Three UH-1Y Venoms, six MH-60 Seahawks, three CH-53E Sea Stallions, and four MH-53E Sea Dragons.
Roughly 800 Marines from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit are also aboard the ships along with Navy Seabees and a fleet surgical team, Seibel said.
The Defense Department has staged roughly 80 Light Medium Tactical Vehicles at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and Fort Campbell, Kentucky, which can be used to carry supplies and rescue trapped people in flooded areas, O’Shaughnessy said. Another 40 high-wheeled vehicles and seven helicopters are standing ready at Fort Bragg.
Both the Air Force and Army have aircraft ready for search and rescue efforts, he said. Six Air Force HH-60 Pave Hawk rescue helicopters, two HC-130J Combat King II aircraft, and four pararescue teams have been dispatched to Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, along with other search and rescue teams from Patrick Air Force Base, Florida.
In addition, the Army has 35 helicopters for search and rescue at Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia, and another such unit at Fort Bliss, Texas, is ready to respond.
No active-duty troops are expected to take part in law enforcement missions in hurricane-affected areas, said Assistant Defense Secretary for Homeland Defense and Global Security Kenneth Rapuano.
“Typically in a disaster, the Department of Defense provides no Title 10 [federal active-duty] law enforcement,” Rapuano said. “That’s provided by National Guard in state active-duty status, local police. Federal law enforcement will often augment disaster areas if requested by the state. So the Department of Defense law enforcement would be a very unique circumstance and would require special legal considerations.”