A STORM – AND RESPONSE – UNLIKE ANY OTHER
By Army Staff Sgt. Wayne Woolley, 444th MPAD
In Mantoloking parts of the bridge were submerged and 58 houses were swept away into Barnegat Bay. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen/Released)
Soldiers assigned to Task Force South, New Jersey National Guard, assist a Long Beach Islander onto a M939 5-ton 6x6 truck during relief operations Oct. 31, 2012. The New Jersey National Guard is working with Long Beach Island civilian authorities in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen/Released)
The full fury of Hurricane Sandy was bearing down on the New Jersey National Guard armory in Teaneck just after 4 a.m. on Oct. 30, when the call came in. A levee had burst 10 miles away, sending a torrent from the Hackensack River into the towns of Moonachie and Little Ferry. Lives were in danger.
Staff Sergeants Catie Cataldo and Bryan Schooley led a convoy of 10 trucks that raced through blinding rain and howling winds to reach a Bergen County Emergency Management command center in 28 minutes. In another five minutes, National Guard Soldiers began helping people onto trucks to escape the rising floodwaters.
"We were told we needed to hustle," said Cataldo, 32, who works as an adoptions investigator for the New Jersey Department of Youth and Family Service in civilian life. "So we just hauled to get down there. We wanted to help."
Cataldo and Schooley were just two of the more than 2,500 Soldiers and Airmen who Brig. Gen. Michael L. Cunniff, the Adjutant General, said distinguished themselves as heroes in the National Guard's unprecedented response to an epic storm.
Spc. Jesse de la Cruz, center on truck, assists in evacuating a toddler
at a rescue mission at Hoboken, N.J. Soldiers from the 250th Brigade
Support Battalion were the first Guardsmen to arrive in Hoboken. In
addition, de la Cruz rescued a pregnant woman going into labor, who
was held up in her home for two days without food, water, and electricity.
(Army National Guard photo by Capt. Andre Ascalon/Released)
The Soldiers and Airmen of the New Jersey National Guard ended up rescuing more than 7,000 people and their pets across a 150-mile swath of the Garden State. They cleared more than 300 miles of debris from power lines, delivered more than 25,000 meals and prepared at least that many more in two Mobile Kitchen Trailers. The NJNG was the lynchpin in a broad Federal Emergency Management Agency operation to deliver fuel to first responders, partnering with the Pennsylvania National Guard and the
Col. Kevin Hegarty, left, operations officer, Joint Task Force for Hurricane
Sandy, gets a briefing from Staff Sgt. Catie Cataldo, who led a
convoy to rescue residents of Moonachie, N.J., during the height of
the hurricane. Soldiers responded to the flooded area in 28 minutes.
(Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Wayne Woolley/Released)
"People just wanted help to get out of those places, they were filling with water. We were helping older people, women with children, dogs, cats, anything we could fit on the trucks."
Staff Sgt. Bryan Schooley, A Company, 250th Brigade Support Battalion
Sgt. Michael Ryno along with 50th Infantry Brigade Combat Team Soldiers provide assistance to displaced residents at an emergency shelter at the Werblin Recreation Center, Piscataway Township, N.J., Oct. 29, 2012. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen/Released)
10th Mountain Division to operate fuel points in Egg Harbor, Freehold and West Orange. They provided more than 250 hours of helicopter lift to support civil authorities, supported the operation of more than a half dozen shelters for displaced residents and delivered tens of thousands of basic needs commodities to displaced residents.
As New Jersey began the monumental task of rebuilding, the state's Soldiers and Airmen remained on duty, assisting civil authorities with traffic control points and security patrols in the hardest-hit areas.
Brig. Gen. James J. Grant said perhaps the greatest contribution made by the individual Soldiers and Airmen was their compassion for their follow citizens and the sense of order they brought to every place they deployed.
"You encountered human beings who had lost everything," Grant told Soldiers and Airmen who were called to duty on Long Beach Island. "And when they saw you, and that uniform, you brought a sense of calmness."
Schooley, the Soldier who directed the mission into Moonachie with Cataldo, said people were grateful when they saw the green National Guard trucks rolling through the floodwaters and into their neighborhoods.
"People just wanted help to get out of those places, they were filling with water," he said. "We were helping older people, women with children, dogs, cats, anything we could fit on the trucks."
Many of the people who were evacuated by the National Guard ended up at state-run shelters for displaced residents. The National Guard had a presence at five of those shelters in Middlesex and Monmouth counties from the first days of the storm. As the week went on, Soldiers and Airmen established a shelter for displaced residents at the Jersey City armory and then assisted with the creation of a shelter in Glen Gardner, Hunterdon County.
Many of the Soldiers and Airmen who responded to the storm had spent days away from their own homes, which were not spared the storm's wrath. Nearly 150 of the Soldiers and Airmen called to duty suffered significant damage to their homes.
Spc. Olivia Ospina of Patterson said her home had suffered some water damage because of the storm, but was convinced that helping her neighbors recover from the storm was her duty.
"There were people trapped who were being forced to the roof of their homes because of rising waters. Without that five ton, without the National Guard and the fire department working as a team, we would have not gotten to those people."
"You encountered human beings who had lost everything. And when they saw you, and that uniform, you brought a sense of calmness."
Pvt. Andrea Pittman, 1-150th Assault Helicopter Battalion, offloads 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel from a Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck M978 2,500 gallon fuel tanker at the municipal fuel depot at Morris Township, N.J. Nov. 3, 2012. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen/Released)
"I just want to get out there and get my feet wet to help these people," Ospina said. "This is what I signed up for."
Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Eugeneia Aikens grew up in Atlantic City and knows the ocean. But she never saw it quite like it looked when her unit pulled up near the convention center to begin evacuating people whose homes were already full of five feet of water.
Master Sgt. Steven Sabato, 108th Wing, listens to the request of one of the displaced residents at the shelter in Jersey City, N.J.,Nov. 7, 2012. The New Jersey National Guard provided sheltering for displaced Jersey City residents at the Jersey City armory in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Armando Vasquez/Released)
"The National Guard guys were right on target and they found me and helped get me out. I can't thank them enough."
Judy Litwinowicz of Brant Beach, N.J.
Staff Sgt. Dion H. Barnes, 108th Wing, places tape on a door in
Loveladies on Long Beach Island N.J., to indicate a house has
been checked for residents who remained in their homes after
Hurricane Sandy Nov. 1, 2012. (Air National Guard photo by Master
Sgt. Mark C. Olsen/Released)
"There were people trapped who were being forced to the roof of their homes because of rising waters," Culleny said. "Without that five ton, without the National Guard and the fire department working as a team, we would have not gotten to those people."
Scenes like that played out across that night and into Tuesday morning along the Jersey Shore and into thedensely populated New York suburbs of Hudson and Bergen counties.
Many had been like Judy Litwinowicz of Brant Beach, N.J. on Long Beach Island, who had been stranded in the cold and was wet with her cat for two days before the New Jersey National Guard arrived.
She felt powerless when the tidal surge swept across her narrow barrier island.
"We had lived here for 25 years and lived through plenty of storms, but nobody expected anything like this," she said. "The National Guard guys were right on target and they found me and helped get me out. I can't thank them enough."
"Most people see the ocean as a very peaceful and calm place," Aikens said. "That night, the oceans jumped up and wanted to take away everything. It was not a nice place."
The mission that brought Aikens to Atlantic City from a National Guard command center in Pomona had begun as an assignment to deliver 1,500 cots to a shelter and changed into a mission to save lives.
One of the first people the Soldiers encountered when they rolled into Atlantic City in 5-ton trucks capable of fording 30-inches of water was Fire Capt. Thomas Joseph Culleny Jr.
"I just want to get out there and get my feet wet to help these people. This is what I signed up for."
Photo Below: Staff Sgt. Robert Jentsch, left, shines a flashlight onto the control panel of a gas-fired generator for Staff Sgt. Carl Hilpl, both with 108th Wing, as Hilpl prepares to start the system so the shelter at Veterans Memorial Middle School in Brick, N.J. will have power Nov. 7, 2012. Since Hilpl and his team of electricians came on duty, they have been hooking up generators and making sure they were compatible with existing electrical systems. Hilpl was also responsible for bringing oxygen tanks to a woman with cancer, every 12 hours for several days. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen/Released)