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104th unit members respond during Operation Harvest Snow

104th Fighter Wing, Wesfield Mass -- Personnel from the 104th Fighter Wing responded to emergency conditions throughout Western Massachusetts in yet another instance of severe weather. Massachusetts National Guard state-support operations were initiated hours after the October 30 snow storm immobilized large areas of the region. Although many Guardsmen were without power themselves, they reported for duty and Operation Snow Harvest was underway.

The heavy snow, two feet in some locations, had fallen on leafed branches creating a hazardous environment as trees could not withstand the burden. Main thoroughfares and back roads soon became impassable and the numerous downed power lines posed a serious public safety problem. "With no power and no phones, our residents do not have a way to let us know they need help," said Sunderland Fire Chief Robert Ahearn.

Guardsmen were tasked with removing debris and clearing critical roadways in an effort to allow emergency vehicles access to render medical aid. The clearing efforts also made way for utility companies to access damaged lines, allowing for a more rapid restoration of power. Among other duties, teams were directed by town officials to conduct door-to-door wellness checks to ensure that older citizens, and those with disabilities, had the ability to seek assistance if necessary. The role of the Guard during a 'state-of-emergency' shifts from homeland defense, to home-state support, working directly for the Governor and his emergency response staff.

104th members are becoming accustomed such operations. Less than 5 months ago, Guardsmen deployed across Hampden and Berkshire counties following the historic tornadoes that devastated the region.

In Hampden, Master Sgt. Robert Dickinson was part of an element working to clear roads. Using chainsaws, he and his team cleared the roads from debris, removing fallen or hanging branches. "The challenge is getting use to the mission, this is very different from my day-to-day military job working in the logistic squadron at Barnes," said the Blandford resident. "We (the Guard) have seen an increase in these types of missions, we learn a lot each time we participate in a state-support role, allowing us to better serve the community," he said.

Master Sgt. James Dunn of Monson was on his third day of work during this operation, pressing through with little rest, in that his home is also without power and heat. "Some areas are devastated," he said. "Most people have been great. Even if they don't have power they are offering us food and water, it is very satisfying to know we are making a difference in the community," said Dunn.

The 400 Guard members activated by Governor Deval Patrick will continue to provide support, render aid, and ensure public safety until power is restored and the mission completed. To date, they have cleared over 500 trees and nearly 70 miles of roadway in eight communities across the commonwealth, in addition to providing security and medical relief to distressed members of the community.