ABOARD A UH-60 BLACK HAWK — Fort Bragg leaders received their first look at the devastation wrought by Tropical Storm Florence on Monday, flying over a stretch of North Carolina from Moore County to Lumberton and Elizabethtown.
While the sun — which hadn’t been seen in days — made an appearance, commanders of Fort Bragg, the 82nd Airborne Division and the 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command assessed the widespread flooding caused by the slow-moving storm.
More than 70 percent of Fort Bragg’s approximately 57,000 troops live off post. On Monday, leaders continued to assess the needs of those troops and their families impacted by the ongoing disaster.
“We are doing everything we can to provide assistance to them,” said Lt. Col. Mike Burns, spokesman for the 18th Airborne Corps. “This is our community and we face the same challenges that our neighbors do.”
A UH-60 Black Hawk flown by the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade carried Maj. Gen. Brian McKiernan, Maj. Gen. James Mingus and Brig. Gen. Christopher Mohan over the region around Fort Bragg.
McKiernan is the acting senior commander of Fort Bragg and the 18th Airborne Corps. Mingus commands the 82nd Airborne Division. And Mohan leads the 3rd ESC, which is overseeing much of the relief efforts from Fort Bragg.
They followed the swelling Cape Fear River to Elizabethtown and then flew over a battered Lumberton, which has been inundated by the Lumber River, before returning north to observe dangerous flooding in Spring Lake and parts of eastern Moore County.
In addition to flooded neighborhoods, the leaders also observed major roadways that connect service members to the post that were under water or in danger of flooding.
The Little River, which runs north of Fort Bragg, has overflowed its banks and made the northern route across post nearly impassable.
Fort Bragg officials are unclear how many service members have been impacted by the storm.
Burns said leaders across the post are accounting for all of their soldiers and the families of those who are deployed.
Mingus said approximately 640 paratroopers and their families have been displaced by Florence.
More than 100 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division are engaged in relief operations, forming high water rescue teams that have been deployed across eastern North Carolina. Mingus said hundreds more were mobilizing to respond if needed.
“They are prepared and ready to go,” he said.
That those soldiers could dig themselves out of the storm and almost immediately be ready to serve their communities was a testament of the division’s ability to respond quickly, Mingus said.
After surveying the damage, Mingus warned that the worst of Florence might not be over.
“We’re not out of danger yet,” he said, referring to rising floodwaters.
In addition to high water rescue teams working alongside other Bragg troops, including the 3rd ESC, 20th Engineer Brigade, 18th Field Artillery Brigade and others, the 82nd Airborne Division is also providing 10 helicopters for relief operations.
That number is expected to grow, as the division’s helicopters return from Georgia, where they waited out the storm, and other Army helicopters arrive from Fort Stewart, Georgia; and Fort Drum, New York.
Hundreds of Fort Bragg soldiers are involved in relief operations, officials said. And hundreds more have joined them from Fort Drum, Fort Stewart and Fort Campbell, Kentucky, among other installations.
The troops are part of a larger relief effort involving thousands of troops from the North Carolina National Guard as well as civilian agencies and volunteers from others states.
Locally, officials said service members are being provided the help they need to recover from the storm.
“Soldiers take care of soldiers,” Burns said. “I know leaders in our formation are reaching out to their troops and their battle buddies and doing everything that they can to help.”
“Those with power have offered to house those without, generators and chainsaws are being swapped, and we are giving soldiers the time to take care of their families and homes,” he said.
Deployed troops, including hundreds of 18th Airborne Corps soldiers who recently took charge of the anti-ISIS mission in Iraq and Syria, are being kept abreast of the situation, Burns said.
“Information is one of the most important things that we can share and we are using every means that we have,” he said.
Meanwhile, Burns said soldiers will continue to help in the communities around around post. Preventive medicine, field feeding and water purification teams are standing by, he said.
© 2018 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.