CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Members of the New Jersey National Guard lined up in formation and were briefed on their new mission Thursday as they prepared to travel south and help with Hurricane Irma relief efforts.
On Friday, more than 40 trucks and 130 members of the National Guard’s 253rd Transportation Company will head to Florida to help state officials.
Samuel Waltzer, the company commander, said he anticipates they will drive the National Guard units from Georgia and Florida to different disaster areas, transport state police in Florida, rescue people who are stuck in high water and supply food, water and batteries to people in need.
“The mission is really going to be dictated by (Hurricane) Irma more than what people can predict at this point,” Waltzer said. “Our company motto is ‘You call, we haul,’ so we’re prepared and ready, and we’re excited to have this mission.”
The 253rd was called to active duty for the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. The company is responsible for operating Humvees, five-ton trucks and tractor-trailers that move equipment, ammunition and men.
Waltzer said the whole company reported to Cape May Court House within 15 hours Wednesday. They worked to make sure each guardsman had his or her vaccinations before being deployed to a disaster area and developed a travel route for the whole convoy.
“You can drive to Florida a lot faster by yourself than with a large military convoy,” Waltzer said. “We think it’s going to be a 2½-day trip. … We have to take care of our soldiers on the way and plan overnight stops.”
Waltzer said that while the 253rd did not send anyone to Texas to help with Hurricane Harvey, the unit’s members are experienced in handling storms. In 2011, they helped New Jersey officials with Hurricane Irene and helped again in 2012 with Hurricane Sandy.
Other area military and civilian groups did travel to Texas to help with Harvey relief.
Last week, the 177th fighter wing from Egg Harbor Township announced on its Facebook page that eight Army National Guard members and four Air National Guard members trained in medevac and hoist-rescue operations were deployed to Texas.
“A request came in from Texas through the National Guard Bureau looking for helicopter assets, specifically with voice capability,” Master Sgt. Chris Donohue said in a video posted by the 177th. “We’re hoping to see if we can do some good down there.”
On Thursday, a spokesman for the 177th said the team was still in Texas, and that the fighter wing had not been called to help with Hurricane Irma.