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National Guard Builds Field Hospital in Joplin

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  • National Guard Builds Field Hospital in Joplin

    JOPLIN, Mo. (May 28, 2011) — With the twisted husk of St. John’s Hospital reminding them of the importance of their mission, a group of Missouri National Guardsmen erected a mobile hospital unit in a fraction of the time they were given.
    Because they were conducting annual training nearby, soldiers of the 117th Engineer Team (Asphalt), of Monett, were on duty conducting search and rescue missions within hours of the tornado hitting Joplin, said Sgt 1st Class Steve White.

    “We’re here to help relieve the pain,” White said. “We bring a lot of heavy equipment and can get to things that a lot of other agencies can’t. The thing about the Guard is, when we get here, we’re ready to work.”

    For hours they did just that, searching through the wreckage of Home Depot and Wal-Mart in the darkness. Only in the morning were they able to begin to see the amount of destruction that had hit the city, said Staff Sgt. Jeremy Pruitt.

    “It was so dark you couldn’t see anything, it was late at night,” Pruitt said. “The first morning was exhausting but it was just an eerie feeling looking across everything and seeing the damage.”

    The destruction in Joplin reminded Pruitt of another place he’d seen in his Guard career.

    “It looked like it had been hit by a ****,” Pruitt said. “A lot of us had been in Baghdad and had worked on the U.N. building when it had blown up and it looked a lot like that — total destruction.”

    Even for the experienced soldiers of the 117th, the scale of the wreckage caused by the tornado was difficult to believe.

    “We’ve worked on tornados but they were smaller areas, smaller paths,” White said. “There was nothing like the destruction you see here.”

    Even so, because of the nature of their mission, the soldiers were prepared for the worst. The 117th is the Missouri National Guard’s search and extraction team. They quickly transitioned from search and extraction training to doing it for real in the span of a week. For days, the team worked 20 to 22-hour shifts searching for survivors in the wreckage and supporting the needs of first responders, White said.

    “If we get called out, it’s usually because people are dead or dying,” White said. “We’re going to get here as quick as we can. Col. (Randy) Alewel, our brigade commander, always put out that the Guard is there to help good people during bad times and we feel like we’re doing that right now.”

    As more help arrived, the team began to work alongside firefighters from around Joplin and around the state, Pruitt said.

    “Those guys do it every day,” Pruitt said. “It’s an awesome experience working with the firemen. We’ve got a lot of respect for those guys.”

    As the week went on and more aid poured in, the 117th continued their mission. After working long days with little rest, the team was presented with a new challenge: to disassemble and reassemble a mobile hospital outside St. John’s Hospital, White said.

    A fresh team could disassemble a mobile hospital in 12 hours, White said. His team did it in four. When it came to re-assembly, the team again completed their mission in a fraction of the time.

    For Pruitt, who lives in nearby Pierce City, it was a chance to help their neighbors. Setting up the field hospital for St. John’s Hospital means that residents will have access to additional medical care.

    In the days after the tornado, St. John’s Hospital had become a symbol of the destruction. The soldiers of the 117th hope that the field hospital will stand as a sign of renewal.

    “It’s an honor – it’s a huge honor,” Pruitt said. “I know every one of my guys in my unit would be down here in a heartbeat if it happened again. That’s what we signed up for.”

    Whether it’s in a nearby town, across Missouri, or in a neighboring state, Pruitt said units like his coming to town immediately after an incident reassures people who have been through difficult times.

    “When we roll into town and they see our convoy and they see these uniforms, that brings organization and peace of mind to know that we’re here for them, whether it’s giving them water or food or helping them with medical needs or even picking up pictures out of their yard to help them salvage what they can salvage,” Pruitt said. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to help them out.”

    Missouri’s soldiers and airmen will continue working in support of local authorities until released by the governor.

    Units supporting the tornado response include: Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 35th Engineer Brigade, of Fort Leonard Wood; 110th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, of Kansas City; 1107th Aviation Group, of Springfield; Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 203rd Engineer Battalion, of Joplin; 175th Military Police Battalion, Columbia; 3-135th Aviation Battalion, of Lebanon; Company A, 935th Aviation Support Battalion, of Aurora; Forward Support Company, 1139th Military Police Company, Harrisonville; 1-138th Infantry Regiment, of Kansas City; the 220th Engineer Company, (Horizontal) of Festus; 276th Engineer Company (Vertical), of Pierce City; 294th Engineer Company (Equipment Support), of Anderson and Carthage; 117th Engineer Team (Asphalt), of Monett; the 1138th Military Police Company, of West Plains and Springfield; 1140th Military Police Company (Guard), of Fulton and Columbia; the 70th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment of Jefferson City and the Joint Operations Center at Joint Force Headquarters in Jefferson City.

  • #2
    Re: National Guard Builds Field Hospital in Joplin

    Thats a lot of units. I think a great deal of them also were activated to aid in blizzard conditions this last winter.