MILES O’BRIEN: As we have heard, the scope of the recovery is staggering. There are some 24,000 National Guard troops deployed to assist local and state responders, and we’re still just in the rescue phase.
Colonial Steven Metze is a public affairs officer for Texas Military Department. We spoke a short time ago.
Colonel Metze, good to have you with us. I know you’re busy. We will get right to it.
Give us an idea of the scope of the deployment right now. Is this unprecedented for Texas?
COL. STEVEN METZE, Texas Military Dept. Hurricane Harvey Response: I looked it up today.
We haven’t deployed this many people since World War I. So, this is literally the most we have deployed in 100 years.
MILES O’BRIEN: Give us a sense of how many troops are in the field and the kinds of mission that they’re doing right now.
COL. STEVEN METZE: So, we’re getting a constant stream of troops and equipment every day. It’s constantly increasing, on our way to 14,000 organic to the state of Texas, plus the stuff that we’re getting from other National Guards, plus the stuff that we’re getting Title X federal troops in and equipment as well.
So, all those are coming in right now. There’s still a lot of people in imminent danger, so our focus right now is still search-and-rescue. We’re starting to do a little bit of critical life support, which is basically when you have organizations that have food and water that they need delivered. We help them get it to where it need to go. We set of points of distribution to help it gets to where it needs to go safely and orderly.
So, we’re starting to see a little bit of that. And there are several other roles we’re going to have to play before this whole thing is over. But we’re preparing for several contingencies as it stands right now.
MILES O’BRIEN: And I guess a lot of people wouldn’t be aware that the National Guard kind of has a mutual aid pact with other states. Tell us what kind of help you’re getting from out of state.
COL. STEVEN METZE: Absolutely.
Yes, we have — the governors between the states talk and put these agreements in place. I know right now we have helicopter search-and-rescue teams from North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, Nebraska, Arizona, Virginia.
I know we have search-and-rescue ground teams and boat teams from Utah, California. I think there are way more than that. Those are just the ones that I know off the top of my head. But we have got offers from every state, and we’re filtering what we need and taking what we can get one at a time as it comes in.
MILES O’BRIEN: Do you have a tally right now of the number of rescues you have accomplished collectively?
COL. STEVEN METZE: Just within the Texas Military forces, we have done about 4,500 ground rescues, another 450 air rescues, and that is — that doesn’t include all the stuff that’s happening with the Coast Guard and the Air Force and the Navy. There’s doing other stuff.
And all of our rescues, of course, are in coordination with local and state authorities. Right? So, we’re working with DPS. We’re working with the Texas Division of Emergency Management. We’re working with Texas Task Force 1 and 2.
They’re the ones who are actually pulling people out of the water while we take them there on helicopters and that sort of thing.
MILES O’BRIEN: I get the sense from talking to you that you’re still very much in the middle of this and could still be ramping up your response. Is that accurate?
COL. STEVEN METZE: Oh, we’re absolutely continuing to ramp up right now.
Like I said, people and equipment are pouring in every day to help us with this. And we’re looking at it in the long run. We have got a long way to go still. We’re doing 24/7 operations, and no one is slowing down until we’re confident we have done everything we can.
MILES O’BRIEN: And as the storm moves toward the east, obviously, you’re deploying along with it.
Is the nature of the mission there more critical?
COL. STEVEN METZE: Well, we certainly focus wherever the need is.
And we definitely flex people up toward the Beaumont and Port Arthur area for early this morning and we’re still continuing to flex people there now. So, we’re going wherever the mission need is greatest, but we’re not leaving any of the other areas right now. We’re just continuing to add.
MILES O’BRIEN: Seeing these scenes of people being rescued, they’re quite harrowing from afar. You have been much closer to it. What has been it like for you?
COL. STEVEN METZE: It’s pretty amazing.
We’re seeing things, like we’re having helicopter rescues that happen at night, which is something we have never done before. The other night, we were looking at footage of four teenagers hanging on to a stop sign, and the stop sign was — the water was up to the stop sign, rushing water, and they were all holding on to it.
And the helicopter lowered people down to pull them off of that stop sign. We’re seeing little kids wrapped in garbage bags to keep them dry with only their heads exposed being pulled out of houses, holding on to soldiers and airmen as they’re being pulled out of neck-deep water.
So, seeing some of this footage is really powerful stuff. Mothers with infants on helicopters. People with broken legs being pulled out of houses. So, there’s a lot of really powerful stuff happening. And it really makes us think — and our hearts and prayers continually go out to the people that are affected by this hurricane.
And we’re going to continue doing everything we can until we’re confident we have done everything we can.
MILES O’BRIEN: I guess all we can say at this point is, thank you for your service, and everybody else in the Texas National Guard.
Colonel Steve Metze is the public affairs officer for the Texas Military Department.
COL. STEVEN METZE: Thank you.