ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla., (6/17/10) -- To prepare for their response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response in the Gulf of Mexico, the Florida National Guard currently has 30 Soldiers and Airmen performing liaison missions in three states.
The Guard members include 24 Soldiers and six Airmen providing liaison and operations center support in Mobile, Ala., Robert, La., Miami, Tallahassee, Fla., and St. Augustine, Fla.
"Right now, we just don't know what missions we will be tasked to perform," Air Force Lt. Col Ron Tittle, the state public affairs officer, told the Pentagon Channel last week. "We can do a variety of missions similar to what we can do during a hurricane response."
In addition to the liaison officers, National Guard aviators based in West Florida are flying reconnaissance missions over the Gulf in a C-23 Sherpa fixed-wing aircraft and a LUH-72 Lakota helicopter.
Since the Deepwater Horizon incident began in April, members of the Florida Guard have been continuously engaged in planning and support of emergency operations along the Gulf Coast, Tittle said.
"We can't go out and just say we're going to start doing these things," he said. "We have to be tasked with specific missions. We have to respect the rights of those commercial enterprises too, so there is a balance out there. The state emergency center can help do that."
In late May, Florida Guard aviators used UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and a CH-47 Chinook helicopter to transport personnel responding to the oil spill and drop sandbags into breaches in the barrier islands of Louisiana in an effort to protect the shoreline from oil.
"We look at different types of missions sets," Tittle said. "If you look at what the military does in combat operations, we can take those same types of capabilities and equipment ... (for) use in our state response situations."
The Florida Guard is also working with State Emergency Response Team planners in the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee to identify and coordinate potential military support missions in Florida. These missions could include additional liaison and planning support, public affairs support, ground and aerial reconnaissance of Florida coastal regions and communications support.
"We want to bring the right people with the right equipment ... to the right place and time," Tittle said.
The National Guard is also identifying teams of Soldiers and Airmen to possibly patrol Florida beaches to report on encroaching oil from the spill.
Tittle said he expects the number of Florida Guard troops mobilized for the oil spill response to grow during the next couple of days.
"We're ready, and we'll respond when needed," he said.