By Sandra Basu
WASHINGTON – In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the 227th Preventive Medicine Medical Detachment, 62nd Medical Brigade, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord received orders to help Hurricane Sandy relief efforts in New York.
The team went to work, testing the safety of food, water and air in the storm-damaged areas where military personnel had been sent to help.
“They are doing an amazing job. They are working 20-hour days,” Capt. Scott Stanley, executive officer with the 227th, told U.S. Medicine last month from Fort Dix. “It is a tremendous amount of work. … We are just happy we can help. It is not every day that as ‘greensuiters’ that we get to do this kind of mission in the U.S.”
The massive storm pummeled parts of the Northeast with rain, wind and snow, flooded homes and destroyed infrastructure. More than 100 deaths were attributed to the disaster by mid-November and caused more than $50 billion in damage.
DoD was among the agencies that provided critical assistance to weather beaten areas.
“DoD still maintains significant capacity in the region to provide emergency temporary power and pumping capability and to distribute fuel, food, cold-weather clothing and other comfort items as requested by civil authorities,” according to a statement weeks after the storm.
The 227th’s PMMD’s mission was to provide force health protection to an engineering battalion in New York. This is a capability that DoD provides wherever its assets are located to ensure safety of the food, water and air.
“We train for this all of the time,” Stanley said. “We do the same thing we are doing here in terms of training and also in theater.”
For this assignment, a 13-personnel team was dispatched from Joint Base Lewis-McChord with 12 of the members sent to New York. Members of the team were supporting troops by providing base sanitation support, such as dining facility and barrack inspections, at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, NY, and Floyd Bennett Field. Both were places that were utilized by troops assisting with relief efforts.
“Our mission in a deployed setting is to make sure that drinking water is safe, to make sure that dining facilities or any food-service facility is following protocols to serve food that is safe to eat,” Stanley said.
Collecting environmental sampling in areas where the engineering battalion was working and documenting possible exposures to environmental factors also was part of the overall mission. Stanley said they had no reason to believe, thus far, that anything is unsafe about the water, soil, air or environment but that this information could be important in the future.
“If soldiers are mucking around in a flooded basement with mud and water in a building in New Jersey, we can’t test that water on the spot, but we can take water samples and have them analyzed. So if after the fact we find something there, we can mitigate the risk of exposure to any personnel who was in that environment,” he said.
What Stanley said was unusual about this particular mission is that the preventive-medicine team was conducting much of its work on non-DoD land because the battalion it was following was working on projects such as pumping water out of buildings, basements and other infrastructures that were not on DoD property.
According to DoD, military personnel were performing relief activities across the affected region.
Their efforts mainly centered on helping to mitigate flooding in areas ranging from schools to the PATH Tunnel near the World Trade Center site. Navy divers repaired piers, while Marines and Army engineers pumped hundreds of thousands of gallons of water out of homes, apartment buildings and parks.
At the same time, 6,618 National Guard personnel from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and West Virginia, where heavy snow caused damage, assisted in response and recovery efforts across their respective states. Immediately after the storm, troops went house-to-house to aid victims.
Later, the New Jersey National Guard, for example, provided tents and mobile kitchen trailers to shelter and feed emergency management personnel.
Meanwhile, the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support had delivered more than three million meals to several FEMA sites with five million more scheduled for delivery by Nov. 7. Approximately 50 power generators and 150,000 blankets had arrived or were on their way to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, a FEMA staging area in New Jersey.
Medical supplies were sent from Travis Air Force Base.
“I’m so impressed with the tenacity and urgency our folks are exhibiting in support of hurricane relief efforts,” said DLA Troop Support Acting Commander Navy Rear Adm. Patricia Wolfe in a written statement. “Troop Support has ready access to so many urgently needed resources like meals, blankets and generators, and we’re working with FEMA to bring those to bear to help the tens of thousands of people who really need them.”