There are no bombs this time. No bullets, no explosives buried in the road. No snipers. No deserts and rocks of Afghanistan and Iraq.
But this mission is just as important, maybe more, to the soldiers of the 178th Combat Engineers battalion of the Army National Guard based in Rock Hill. The unit is sending dozens of trucks and earth movers and tankers and other vital equipment this week to assist in the rescue and recovery efforts after flooding devastated the Midlands and Lowcountry of South Carolina.
“I want to help the people of my state,” said Sgt. Kortni Mykytka, 26. “People need help. The state needs help. We are ready to give it to them.”
About 200 of the battalion’s 800 soldiers from armories in Rock Hill, Fort Mill, Lancaster and Chester have been activated, with most already in the hardest-hit areas where emergency officials need equipment, trucks and manpower for evacuations. Recovery efforts could take days and weeks.
Sgt. Eric Kimbrell of Rock Hill, who was deployed three times to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving his wife and two daughters behind for years, readied the troops Wednesday. Uncountable times in combat, Kimbrell as a platoon leader led squads in war. Wednesday was no different. Only this time the enemy is water and cold and broken roads and flooded dreams.
“We go down there, and we do all we can to help these people,” Kimbrell told about 40 soldiers before the group was told to “mount up” on the transport trucks and tankers and Humvees. “Let’s get to it.”
Kimbrell was asked how long the mission would last. The tough guy with 24 years in the Guard, who left his regular job and family again Tuesday, smiled and said, “As long as it takes.”
The Guard based at Rock Hill’s armory has become so involved in the recovery statewide that the operations center for the battalion was moved from the armory to McCrady training center in Eastover near Columbia, said Maj. Tom Meares, executive officer of the 178th. More soldiers were activated late Tuesday to help statewide.
Afghanistan combat veteran Sgt. Travis Hicklin, 28, said the opportunity to help people who need it is one of the reasons he joined the Guard. However long it takes, that’s what he will do.
“There is no more important mission than going to where people need us,” Hicklin said.
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065
Want to help?
What: Family and friends of the Army National Guard’s 178th Combat Engineer Battalion will host a yard and bake sale.
When: 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday.
Where: National Guard Armory, 126 Airport Road, Rock Hill.
Why: Proceeds will go to the Family Readiness Group, which assists families of the unit in need during the holidays and emergencies.
Donations: Can be dropped off at the armory 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. through Friday.
Information: Call Leanne Pressley at 803-371-0911
York County officers donating food
York County officers who know that officers in flood areas are working long hours without a chance to stop and eat are collecting snacks and other items for law enforcement.
Officer Angie Wells of the Rock Hill Police Department is coordinating the effort at all departments in York County, with the items to be taken to Columbia and other areas as donations come in. The public also can drop off donations at any police agency.
“I would like to think some of these agencies would think of us if this had happened in our community,” Wells said.
Other participating departments include the York County Sheriff’s Office and police departments in York, Clover, Fort Mill, Tega Cay and Winthrop University.
Police are collecting granola bars, other packaged snacks, drinks, crackers or, as Wells put it, “Any other food that can be easily eaten in a police car or on the go.”
Want to help S.C. flood victims?
Area groups are collecting donations to help South Carolinians dealing with historic flooding.
Sullivan Middle School, 1825 Eden Terrace, Rock Hill, is collecting bottled water, diapers, wipes and baby formula. First truck leaves Thursday, with donations accepted at the main office from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Fort Mill Ford, 801 Gold Hill Road, is collecting donations for a second truck to the flood-affected areas through Thursday. Volunteers are collecting bottled water, diapers, toiletries, games for children that do not require batteries, contact lens solutions, contact cases and other nonperishable items.
Emmanuel Church of the Nazarene, 998 Dunlap Roddey Road, Rock Hill, is collecting blankets, toiletries, hygiene products and crisis care kits in zip bags that include shampoo, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, combs, hand towels, pocket-sized tissues, and small toys. The church will send its first load at noon Wednesday. For information, call 803-328-2134.
Donations of water can be dropped off at Allen Tate Realtors, 1602 Ebenezer Road, Founders Federal Credit Union locations, Piedmont Medical Center main lobby, Williams and Fudge, 300 Chatham Ave, and the Upper Palmetto YMCA, 402 Charlotte Ave.