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Hurricanes: Drill will bring troops from six states to county

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Hundreds of National Guard troops from the Southeast will participate in a hurricane disaster drill headquartered at the Georgetown County Airport in early March.

Georgetown County emergency management director Sam Hodge said Operation Vigilant Guard will be conducted March 4-10 in a variety of locations with military personnel training alongside firefighters and rescue workers from Midway Fire and Rescue and county and city fire departments. Planning for the operation will continue Tuesday and Wednesday when more than 60 military and civilian leaders meet at Litchfield Beach and Golf Club. Hodge said he volunteered to host the exercises after seeing the benefits of two drills last year. Helicopters lifted “victims” from the Pawleys Island Nature Park as part of last June’s hurricane training exercise, and emergency workers participated in a drill on Sandy Island in February of a simulated airplane disaster.

Hodge said Vigilant Guard exercises involve troops from as many as six states for a week. “They were looking for a host county,” Hodge said. “It builds good relationships even though the National Guard is actually the last resource we normally use because of the cost. We try to use all other resources available, but the National Guard can provide things we just don’t have.”

Hodge said the Air National Guard would bring three types of helicopters to the exercise: Black Hawks, Chinooks and Lacotas. “They will maintain the airspace around Georgetown County during that week in March,” he said. “There will be quite a bit of air play.” Troops will establish a base camp for three days at the Choppee Recreation Complex and use the county’s Carroll A. Campbell Marine Center on the Sampit River for water operations. The former Eagle Electric building owned by the city of Georgetown will be the scene of some activities along with various county parks and recreation fields.

Hodge said the forestry service, hospitals and a number of private businesses will participate along with the fire departments. A portable medical facility will be erected at the airport for the week. The county will provide some services such as recycling. From an economic point of view, the drill will bring an estimated $200,000 in contracts to local businesses for portable toilets, supplies and equipment, Hodge said.

“We want to make it a community event,” he said, “so in a real disaster we will be better prepared.”

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