Monday, March 13, 2023

30 Years Ago: The Georgia National Guard Responds to the “Blizzard of the Century”

 By Major William Carraway, Historian, Georgia National Guard


Left: The Georgia National Guard Medal of Valor. Right: A U-H1 helicopter of the Georgia Army National Guard takes off from a landing
strip in the North Georgia Mountains bound for a relief mission following a winter storm that blanketed the region March 13, 1993.

On the morning of March 13, 1993, Georgia were struck by the “blizzard of the century.” The snow fell as far south as Albany and Savannah. Accumulation ranged from four inches of snow in Atlanta to nearly three feet in Union County.[1] The rapid snowfall and high winds that accompanied the storm felled trees and powerlines across North Georgia leaving more than 450,000 without power.[2]

On March 14, Governor Zell Miller declared a state of emergency and the Georgia National Guard responded within hours dispatching more than 600 Soldiers and Airmen on state active duty to areas ravaged by the storm.[3] The Guardsmen patrolled the interstates rescuing motorists from Atlanta to the Tennessee border. Operating out of armories that also served as warming shelters, more than 100 Guard vehicles navigated the treacherous roadways, impassable to ambulances, to respond to medical emergencies.[4] Aviators of the Georgia Army National Guard patrolled the skies to scout ahead of ground vehicles. Helicopters were also dispatched to search for stranded hikers and campers in the North Georgia mountains.

A jack-knifed tractor trailer provides mute witness to the treacherous driving conditions on Interstate 75 north of Atlanta following a winter storm
March 13, 1993. Photo by 124th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.

Logisticians of the Georgia National Guard contributed the effort delivering relief supplies such as food, blankets and medical supplies to remote Georgia communities. Engineers labored to clear downed trees from roadways and erected utility poles to replace those shattered by the storm.[5]

Rescued motorists take shelter at Georgia National Guard
Armories. Photo by 124th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.

Across the state, Guardsmen, operating in small teams, scoured the roadways rendering aid. Soldiers of the Cartersville-based Company H, 122nd Long Range Surveillance Unit rescued a family trapped on Highway 41.

“We were taken back to the armory and treated very, very well and ended up helping out by manning the phones and dispatching the National Guard as they went to rescue more people,” wrote Chuck Harris of Rossville in a letter to the Atlanta Constitution.[6]

The Georgia National Guardsmen who took to the roads were equipped with high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles. The HMMWV was a relatively new addition to the Georgia National Guard having been first fielded by the 122nd TOW Light Anti-Tank Unit in 1986. Guardsmen of the Rome-based Company A, 1st Battalion, 108th Armor Regiment busily employed their new vehicles rescuing a mother and her day-old infant that had been born at home. Another vehicle crew of Company A reached a woman who was going into labor and made a six-hour drive to get her to a hospital for delivery.

Staff Sergeants Ken Carter and Austin Harper reported to the Atlanta armory of the 190th Military Police Battalion and mobilized to Dalton. It took the Soldiers 16 hours to reach the city during which time the pair rendered aid to motorists stranded in more than 40 vehicles. Finding an injured man in one of the vehicles, the Soldiers delivered him to the hospital. Reaching Dalton, Carter and Harper received the mission to deliver power company employees to the top of Dug Gap Mountain overlooking Dalton to repair powerlines toppled by snow and fallen trees.[7]  

Major General William Bland, Georgia’s Adjutant General observes as a Georgia National Guard CH-47 helicopter prepares to deliver a utility pole
to restore power after a winter storm downed powerlines across north Georgia March 13, 1993. Photo by 124th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.

Jeff and Marie Withrow, an elderly couple from Kentucky were travelling home from a Florida vacation when they were stranded on I-75 north of Atlanta. The couple spent two days trapped in their car with only a blanket for warmth. They were discovered by Pfc. Roy Green and Spc. Frank Aaron of the Marietta-based 265th Engineer Group who were on their tenth hour of patrolling Interstate 75. The Soldiers transported the Withrows to the Calhoun armory of the 108th Armor Regiment where they received food and took shelter in the armory with other stranded motorists.

“They were a Godsend,” said Marie Withrow. “They saw how weak and sick I was. They picked me up and carried me inside and gave me a bowl of hot soup. Those boys were wonderful.”[8]

As they had in previous winter storm responses, Georgia Air National Guardsmen delivered emergency power generators. Transported from units in southeast Georgia, the generators provided power for hospitals and nursing homes.[9]

Georgia National Guard Soldiers and Red Cross volunteers unload relief supplies from a UH-1 helicopter following a winter storm that struck
Georgia March 13, 1993. Photo by 124th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.

For their actions during the winter storm response, three Georgia National Guard Soldiers were awarded the Medal of Valor by Governor Zell Miller. Chief Warrant Officer 3 Rafael Caraballo and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jerry Perry of the Dobbins-based Rapid Air Interdiction Detachment were cited for rescuing 27 stranded people and delivering them to medical facilities. In the course of these rescues, the Soldiers were compelled to land their helicopter on snow-swept mountains and hike through waste deep snow to rescue hikers, with Perry walking over two miles to reach two victims at a hiking shelter. Additionally, Sgt. Myron McElrath of the 265th Engineer Group was recognized for rendering first aid to a stranded motorist who was undergoing a seizure, stabilizing him, and transporting the victim to a medical facility.[10]

Major General William Bland, Georgia’s Adjutant General (right) is briefed on emergency response operations at the Calhoun armory of the
108th Armor Regiment March 14, 1993. Photo by 124th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.


Looking back at the tireless effort of nearly 20 Georgia National Guard units across the state, Maj. Gen. William Bland, Georgia’s Adjutant General credited the training and dedication of Georgia’s Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen and lauded the capability of the HMMWV which had demonstrated its capability in its first large-scale emergency response operation.

“We had a built-in fleet of vehicles that could go literally anywhere,” said Bland. “There’s no telling how many lives were saved.”[11]


[1] Mike Morris, “21 years ago, Atlanta slammed by rare blizzard,” The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, March 13, 2013,


[2] Associated Press, “Blizzard cripples north, central Ga., The Macon Telegraph, March 14, 1993, 10.


[3] Georgia Department of Defense, Department of Defense Annual Report Fiscal Year 1993, (Atlanta: Georgia National Guard, 1994), 14.


[4] Scott Marshall, “Blizzard leaves 6 dead in Georgia,” Atlanta Constitution, March 15, 1993, 1.


[5] Georgia Department of Defense, Department of Defense Annual Report Fiscal Year 1993, (Atlanta: Georgia National Guard, 1994), 15.

[6] Chuck Rossville, letter, Atlanta Journal Constitution, March 20, 1993, E11.


[7] “The Hummer: Vehicle proves its worth; saves lives in storm.” Georgia Guardsman, June 1993, 7.

[8] “Guardsmen save stranded motorists,” Georgia Guardsman, June 1993, 7.


[9] “Georgia guard ready for blizzard,” The Georgia Guardsman, June 1993, 7.


[10] “Governor awards Guardsmen with Medal of Valor,” Georgia Guardsman, September 1993, 7.


[11] “The Hummer: Vehicle proves its worth; saves lives in storm.” Georgia Guardsman, June 1993, 7.

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