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Maui Airmen and Soldiers team up to clear flood debris

Maui island based Hawaii National Guard Airmen and Soldiers work to remove debris from the Wailuku river September 2016. Storm generated heavy rains on Sep. 13th caused river swelling and flash flooding impacting area residents and damaging property and infrastructure. The service members volunteered for state active duty from Sep. 21 to Sep. 27 for domestic operations to provide humanitarian asistance. (courtesy photo)

Maui island based Hawaii National Guard Airmen and Soldiers work to remove debris from the Wailuku river September 2016. Storm generated heavy rains on Sep. 13th caused river swelling and flash flooding impacting area residents and damaging property and infrastructure. The service members volunteered for state active duty from Sep. 21 to Sep. 27 for domestic operations to provide humanitarian asistance. (courtesy photo)

Maui island based Hawaii National Guard Airmen and Soldiers along with Maui civilian officials survey debris in the Wailuku river September 2016. Storm generated heavy rains on Sep. 13th caused river swelling and flash flooding impacting area residents and damaging property and infrastructure. The service members volunteered for state active duty from Sep. 21 to Sep. 27 for domestic operations to provide humanitarian asistance. (courtesy photo)

Maui island based Hawaii National Guard Airmen and Soldiers along with Maui civilian officials survey debris in the Wailuku river September 2016. Storm generated heavy rains on Sep. 13th caused river swelling and flash flooding impacting area residents and damaging property and infrastructure. The service members volunteered for state active duty from Sep. 21 to Sep. 27 for domestic operations to provide humanitarian asistance. (courtesy photo)

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii -- Hawaii Air and Army National Guard members based out of Maui teamed up to help clear debris from the Wailuku River Sept. 21-27.

To protect life, property, and infrastructure and to provide humanitarian assistance, Airmen from the HIANG's 292nd Combat Communications squadron and Soldiers from the HIARNG's 230th Engineering Company volunteered to remove the debris. 

Debris settled in the Wailuku River following the heavy rains that besieged Maui on Sept. 13. Like the drain pipe blocked with too much waste, the debris that settled in the Wailuku River redirected the flow of water causing damage to the surrounding community.

Area residents were directly impacted or at risk of being affected as overflow from the river flooded homes and severely damaged state and county property and infrastructure.

"The Situation when we responded was a high priority," said Chief Master Sgt. Charles Tomlinson, Plans and Resources Superintendent with the 292nd CBCS and Air Guard liaison to Maui county emergency officials. "The area was at risk of [additional] flooding from even the slightest rainfall due to the changes in the river. This put several homes at risk as well as infrastructure in the area."

The Maui News reported that river flow during the height of the rainstorm was at three billion gallons a day; normal flow for the river is 150 million gallons a day.

The situation prompted Maui county officials to request assistance and Gov. Ige to issue an emergency proclamation.

Once on site, Hawaii National Guard Airmen and Soldiers along with a local trucking company, worked to clear debris from the river and transport green waste to a county landfill.

"The amount of devastation is hard to describe and pictures do not do it justice," Tomlinson said. "You would have had to see it first hand to really get a feel for it."

Domestic operations such as these illustrate the National Guard's dual mission. On one hand, National Guard Airmen and Soldiers serve their country as elements of the U.S. military. But unlike Active Duty members, Guard members also have a responsibility to the state and communities they serve in. State governors or the President of the United States can call on the Guard in a moment's notice.

"The experience enhanced and validated the existing Maui county procedures for inter-agency relief efforts in support of natural disasters," said Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Cabanila, a readiness non-commissioned officer for the 230th Engineering Company and Army Guard liaison to Maui county emergency officials. 

"State active duty missions such as these demonstrate to the community that the National Guard [members] are truly citizen Soldiers who can be counted on during time of need for their local communities," Cabanila said.

According to Tomlinson, the event provided a valuable learning experience for the Soldiers and Airmen involved.

"Since this was not what we normally train for--we are a communications squadron, it was a learning experience for all," Tomlinson said. "This was the first time being activated in support of the state mission for many of the individuals as well as the first time being involved in a joint Army/Air operation."

Stats indicate that 73 truckloads consisting of over 328 tons of debris were removed from the Iao Valley riverbed and transported to Maui county green waste landfill during the seven day activation period.

"It was great to see everyone come together in their efforts," Tomlinson said.