Thursday, July 4, 2024

The Georgia Guard Response to the Flood of 1994

By Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

ALBANY, Ga., July 7, 1994 - Georgia Army National Guard Soldiers of Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion 121st Infantry Regiment construct 
a protective sandbag wall around the Palmyra Medical Center in Albany, Ga. following Tropical Storm Alberto. 
Photo by Spc. Mike Carr, 124th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Operation Crested River
In July 1994, the Georgia National Guard conducted its largest natural disaster response in history up to that date. On July 3, 1994, Tropical Storm Alberto began tracking north across Georgia inundating the state with unprecedented rainfall. Twenty-one inches of precipitation was recorded in 24 hours in Americus Georgia. With the ground already saturated from previous rains, Alberto swiftly overloaded streams and rivers with surface runoff. Flooding was widespread from the southwest Georgia counties to Atlanta. 
MONTEZUMA, Ga. July 8, 1994 - Flood waters from the Flint River flooded downtown Montezuma to the rooftops leaving approximately 2,000 residents 
stranded. Georgia Guardsmen with the LaGrange-based Company C, 560th Engineer Battalion repaired bridges so that water and food could be delivered. 
Georgia National Guard photo by Spc. Rob Hainer

By July 6, the rain had washed out roads and dams, and the Georgia National Guard had opened six armories as shelters for people displaced by floodwaters. The next day, the units of the Macon-based 48th Infantry Brigade under the command of Col. William Thielemann began to mobilize. By the end of the July, more than 3,600 Guardsmen had been called to active duty. They came from units ranging from Toccoa to Valdosta and from Savannah to Columbus. They came together with one mission — to help Georgians in need. The response became known as Operation Crested River.[i]

The Infantry Company Executive Officer[ii]
Lieutenant General Thomas Carden, former Adjutant General of the National Guard, was
 Soldiers of Headquarters Company, 
2-121 constructed a sand bag dam to protect
an emergency power generator at an Albany, Ga.
hospital.  Photo by Spc. Mike Carr, 124th MPAD.

a first lieutenant when Alberto struck in 1994. As the executive officer of Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment, Carden was responsible for a detachment of Soldiers at the Georgia National Guard armory in Tifton. Following a declaration of a state of emergency by Governor Zell Miller, Carden and his detachment reported for duty.

“We rallied at Cordele and were sent to Albany,” said Carden.
Upon reaching Albany, the 2-121 Soldiers were tasked with building a sand-bag dam for a local hospital.

“Some of the patients were too weak to evacuate,” recalled Carden. “The power was out and the critical patients at the hospital relied on a generator to supply power to ventilators and life support. “If that generator went out those people would not have survived.”

Thanks to backbreaking effort, the dam constructed by the Soldiers of 2nd Battalion held, and the patients were saved.

The Army Veteran on His First Guard Response Mission[iii]
Retired State Command Sergeant Major Phillip Stringfield was also assigned to 2-121 during Crested River. Having recently transferred into the Georgia Army National Guard from the 82nd Airborne Division, Stringfield was on his first disaster response mission.

“It was my first call out as a Guardsman for state activation,” said Stringfield “It was a unique experience because I will always remember how the service members, whose homes were destroyed, reported for duty. That was so amazing to me, and that will always remain in my mind as an example of the true character of our service members and what we do in this organization.”

Despite the passing of time, Stringfield still vividly recalled details of the flood response.

“I remember driving through Albany and feeling amazed at the destruction of all those buildings,” said Stringfield. “The cries for help from the people in the area were devastating.”

Stringfield was among the first Guardsmen to reach Albany. With 24,000 evacuees in the area, large public facilities were converted into temporary living quarters for displaced families.

“I was assigned to a shelter that I worked at during the day,” Stringfield said. “We provided security and brought hot meals for citizens who had been displaced. Once the permanent housing became available, we transported them there.”

With trucks and tactical vehicles capable of negotiating damaged and debris-strewn roads, transportation became a key component of the Georgia National Guard response. In areas such as Leesburg that were completely cut off by flood waters, Georgia Guard helicopters delivered relief supplies and transported residents and medical personnel.[iv]

A UH-1 Iroquois of the Marietta-based 148th Medical Company delivers relief
supplies through southwest Georgia following Tropical Storm Alberto.
“We also transported doctors and first responders who couldn’t get to their jobs because of the flood,” noted Stringfield of operations in Dougherty County.

The Engineer[v]
Retired Lt. Col. Matthew Shannon was a captain with the Statesboro-based 648th Engineer Battalion (now the 177th Brigade Engineer Battalion of the 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team). Working as the battalion's assistant operations officer, Shannon relayed assignments from the 48th Brigade to subordinate units.

“(The operations center was) located on a college campus and we were tasked to assist local police,” Shannon said. “Part of the mission was recovering bodies that had come up through the graves because of the flood.”

Shannon described how the Soldiers of his unit recovered bodies dating back to the Civil War while also ensuring artifacts were recovered.

“I remember them saying they recovered a lot of sabers, other weapons and artifacts from the Civil War,” he said. “They would then take everything to a central location for graves registration. Their goal was to try to put as much back together for re-burial.”

Shannon recalled how strange it was to have so much flooding in the south when much of the rain had fallen in the north of the state.

“It was such an oddity because there was a lot of sun and a lot of water,” he said. “It’s not something you would have expected to see.”

Engineers of the Georgia National Guard assess roads in southwest Georgia
following Tropical Storm Alberto.

Engineer units of the Georgia National Guard were pressed into service surveying damage and repairing roads. Soldiers of the Columbus-based 560th Engineer Battalion worked around the clock to construct a berm around an ammonia tank in Bainbridge. Had flood waters breached the berm the entire town would have had to evacuate.[vi]

By July 18, command and control of response operations shifted from the 48th Infantry Brigade to the 265th Engineer Group. Throughout their portion of the response, the Soldiers of the 48th Brigade operated more than 500 vehicles filled nearly 55,000 sandbags and transported more than 400,000 of drinking water.

The Operations Sergeant Major[vii]
The Georgia Guard coordinated the statewide response from the tactical operation center in Atlanta. Retired Sgt. Major Jacqueline McKennie was assigned to the TOC Emergency Operations Center during the flood relief.

“The EOC was the central command and control facility over all of the National Guard units—both Air Guard and Army Guard—throughout the state of Georgia,” said McKennie.

McKennie was responsible for personnel control. She assisted with the mobilization of units and made sure the units knew where they were supposed to go while maintaining accountability for personnel. Once the units were dispatched, the EOC handled the command and control for each of them.
A Soldier with the Georgia Army National Guard's Decatur-based 170th Military
Police Battalion provides directions to citizens following Tropical Storm Alberto.
From July 6 to August 5, a myriad of units with specialized equipment and capabilities were dispatched across the state. The Decatur-based 170th Military Police Battalion augmented law enforcement in impacted areas. Airmen of the Georgia Air National Guard’s
A Georgia Air National Guard Airman of the
116th CES monitors water filtration
at Lake Tobesofkee in Macon.
116th Civil Engineer Squadron were dispatched to Macon after the city’s drinking water source was overwhelmed. The 116th conducted water purification operations with the assistance of 20 Alabama National Guard Soldiers of the 1,200th Quartermaster Company as well as the Fort Stewart-based 559th Quartermaster Battalion.[viii] The massive purification and distribution mission resulted in the production of nearly five million gallons of drinking water for Bibb County residents.[ix]

“It was kind of hectic at first, because the flood hit so hard and so fast that it caused so much death and destruction,” said McKennie. “But things eventually returned to normal once we got people into place where help was needed.”

The Aftermath
Flooding from Tropical Storm Alberto claimed 30 lives in Georgia[x]. The ages of the victims ranged from 2 to 84 years old. The storm forced more than 35,000 citizens from their homes and caused more than $203 million in infrastructure damage. The Georgia National Guard responded by mobilizing nearly 3,700 Guardsmen - nearly one third of the state’s force. In the weeks that followed, These Guardsmen, in partnership with first responders and civil authorities from impacted counties, distributed more than 10.2 million gallons of water, served 154,000 meals and repaired hundreds of miles of damaged road.[xi] For those who served, the memory of the response remains, and the lessons learned have been applied to ensure that the Guard remains ready to respond.

In the years following the flood of 1994, the Georgia National Guard has honed its ability to respond to natural disasters. From Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to Hurricanes Matthew, Irma and Michael of recent memory, the Georgia National Guard has responded and partnered with state and local agencies to assist Georgia’s citizens in times of emergencies and to minimize the impacts of natural disasters. For those who participated in the response in 1994, the memory of Operation Crested River remains fresh.

“It does not seem like it was so long ago,” said Carden. “Helping our fellow citizens is one of the most rewarding things we do in the National Guard.”[xii]

[i] “The Georgia Guard Response: Our Communities Under Water." The Georgia Guardsman Magazine, September 1994, 4.
[ii] "Interview with Col. Thomas Carden." Interview by author. May 19, 2014.
[iii] "Interview with Command Sgt. Major Phillip Stringfield." Interview by author. May 20, 2014.
[v] "Interview with Matthew Shannon." Interview by author. May 11, 2014.
[vi] Operation Crested River. Produced by James Driscoll and the124th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.
[vii] "Interview with Jacquelin McKinnie." Interview by author. May 22, 2014.
[viii] The Georgia Guardsman Magazine, 8-9.
[ix] Georgia Department of Defense Annual Report 1994. Marietta, GA: 1994, 19.
[x] "Flood-Related Mortality -- Georgia, July 4-14, 1994." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed July 02, 2019.
[xi] The Georgia Guardsman Magazine, 24.
[xii] "Interview with Maj. Gen. Thomas Carden." Interview by author. July 3, 2019.

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