Eight helicopters on loan from the Illinois National Guard were expected to arrive Tuesday night in Vermont to help the Vermont National Guard deliver food, medicine, water and other supplies to 13 Vermont towns cut off from the rest of the state in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene.
The outside helicopter support is needed because all six of the Vermont Guard’s Black Hawk helicopters are still in Iraq, where they and 55 Vermont soldiers are wrapping up a year long hospital transport mission, said Lt. Lloyd Goodrow, spokesman for the Vermont Guard.
The eight helicopters being sent in include six massive, double-bladed Chinook choppers and two smaller Black Hawk helicopters, said Vermont Guard Capt. Doran Metzger.
The New Hampshire National Guard sent over two of its Black Hawk helicopters on Monday. The two were used to transport Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate, Gov. Peter Shumlin, Sen. Bernie Sanders I-Vt., and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., on a survey of flood-damaged areas in the state.
Peter Coffey, deputy director for operations and logistics for the state’s Emergency Management Division, said the papers requesting the Illinois assistance were approved Tuesday afternoon, and the eight helicopters were en route to Vermont.
Goodrow said the Vermont soldiers in Iraq are on their way home and should be back in the state late this week or early next week. The six helicopters, however, will need to undergo an extensive maintenance check to remove desert sand and grit from their machinery before they are cleared for use back in the state.
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Goodrow said that process could take a month to complete. One of the Vermont Guard’s missions in the aftermath of the Irene-related devastation is to get supplies to residents in about a dozen stranded cut-off towns.
That is being done via very small deliveries being carried out by the Guard’s two Lakota and two Kiowa helicopters, which are much smaller than Black Hawks and Chinooks.
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Metzger said he was on one of the Lakota flights Tuesday and managed to deliver two boxes of MREs, or ready-to-eat meals, to Rochester one of the towns with no road access to the outside. Each box contained 24 of the meals. Rochester has about 1,100 residents.
Goodrow said the Guard continued to make deliveries to stranded isolated towns during the day.
“We’d be in a very different scenario if they were here,” Goodrow said, referring to the Vermont Guard’s Black Hawk helicopters now in Iraq.
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Goodrow said the Guard has both a federal and a state mission and, thanks to the help from Illinois and New Hampshire, expects to be able to perform both functions.
“Our primary federal mission is a combat mission in Iraq that is saving lives,” he said. “And we are able to reach out across state lines at home to allow us to do both our state and federal missions.”
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They are “radical extremists.”
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