BUFFALO, New York – Eight hundred and forty-nine Soldiers and Airmen took part in the New York National Guard’s week-long mission to Buffalo, following a Christmas Eve blizzard that dumped 50 inches of snow on the city and caused a 16-hour long whiteout.
Guard soldiers and sirmen moved critical medical personnel to hospitals, assisted in snow clearance, rescued passengers from stranded vehicles and checked on the welfare of more than 3,700 households during the mission.
The mission kicked off Christmas Eve morning, Dec. 24, with 54 personnel on duty. By the end of the day, that number had increased to 163.
Additional troops came on duty as more vehicles—Humvees, FMTVs trucks, front end bucket loaders, and dump trucks were required by local authorities.
By Dec. 29 the number of troops on duty reached its peak at 701.
The mission ended on New Year’s Eve although soldiers remain on duty to conduct post-operations maintenance for the 172 vehicles that were employed across Erie County roads.
The snowstorm which began Saturday morning and lasted into Christmas day was unprecedented. More than 4 feet of snow fell on Buffalo, shutting down the city and stranding motorists.
“This is an epic, statewide hazard,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul warned on Dec. 23 as the region prepared for the storm.
By the time it was over, 39 people had died. Some went outside, got lost and froze to death, others were stranded in vehicles, and others died because emergency personnel could not get through.
New York National Guard personnel established a headquarters at Buffalo’s Connecticut Street Armory, but the weather on Saturday made it impossible for troops reporting for duty to get there.
An 18-person response team from the 107th Attack Wing at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station in F-350 trucks, led by 1st Lt. Richard Burns, was unable to get into Buffalo on Friday and had to turn back.
When the storm wound down, the airmen were able to get into Buffalo. They rescued stranded motorists and got one pregnant woman to John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital just before she gave birth.
In another instance, the 107th team was charged with getting a heart patient to the hospital.
“We had one gentleman who lived with an artificial heart that was battery powered,” Sgt. Kevin Au told WRGZ television.
“He was in need of getting a recharge. He had a spare battery that was in his home address, and we were also trying to get him to a hospital so they could plug him in. As I understand it, his battery had less than a half-hour of timeline before we were able to get him someplace safe,” Au said.
Major Gen. Ray Shields, the adjutant general of New York, visited the 107th Attack Wing to recognize the airmen in that initial response team on Friday, Dec. 29.
“I can’t thank you all enough for coming in and helping our fellow citizens over a holiday weekend,” Shields told them.
As the storm began to wind down, critics accused Hochul of erring in not activating National Guard soldiers and airmen sooner.
Those critics don’t comprehend how bad the storm was, said Lt. Col. Justin Coats, the deputy commander of the 153rd Troop Command, and the initial joint task force commander.
The weather conditions on Dec. 24 that made it impossible for the 107th Airmen to get into Buffalo would have made it impossible to deploy people on any kind of rescue missions during the day, he said.
They would have been “pinned” in the armories, he said.
As the weather cleared on Dec. 26, soldiers from the 827th Engineer Company cleared snow away from the parking lot at the Erie County Fire Training Academy in Cheektowaga in order to prepare a staging area for local, country and state first responders.
Soldiers and airmen in Humvees and F-350 trucks began moving critical medical personnel to hospitals and psychiatric centers and patrolling for stranded motorists.
Army National Guard Pfc. Matthew Waldman, a member of the 105th Military Police Company, was on his way to sign in on duty, when he diverted to help get a pregnant woman to the hospital.
His mother, riding in the car with him, let him know the woman was going into labor and was snowed in.
“So, I decided to veer off-course a little bit go to her address,” Waldman told CBS News.
Waldman got the woman out of the house, carried her to his car, and drove her to the hospital before checking in for snowstorm duty.
The 107th Attack Wing’s Fatality Search and Recovery Team, whose airmen are trained to help recovery the dead following a disaster, was called in to assist in the recovery of those who died in the storm.
Over the course of the mission the team, which also deployed when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit New York City in 2020, recovered 22 decedents.
A key mission from Dec. 27 to 29, was visiting homes without power and areas on the Buffalo’s east side which had been hit hard by the storm.
Over the three days, soldiers and airmen visited 3,755 households to find out if people had food, water and vital medications. If people needed food or water, they dropped off meals ready to eat and bottled water.
During the course of the mission, they delivered 278 cases of MRES—3,336 meals—and 150 cases of water.
That mission made the soldiers realize how hard the storm hit the region, Spc. Daniel Weimer told Spectrum News.
“When you see elderly people not being able to get out of their home, you just feel horrible, especially when they don’t have power for three to four days, they can’t keep warm,” Weimer said.
“You know how people were buried in. Specific homes, you could not even get to the door. Burned down homes, sadly, we saw several of those,” he said.
On Dec. 29, soldiers also passed out toys donated to the New York National Guard’s Family Programs to families they visited.
Soldiers of the 105th Military Police Company were tasked with setting up traffic control points to keep people from driving down roads where crews were working to remove snow.
The 204th Engineer Battalion, based in Binghamton, N.Y., deployed additional dump trucks to help remove snow, as well.
The forecast of warmer temperatures in the week following the storm prioritized snow removal to prevent flooding from melting snow, said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
By the end of the mission, the soldiers and airmen, using skid steers and front-end loaders, had cleared 6 miles of roads. They also worked to keep emergency vehicle staging areas clear of snow.
The New York National Guard deployed 172 vehicles on the mission and four trailers.
- 92 humvees
- 33 FMTV trucks
- 15 dump trucks
- 4 front-end loaders
- 8 skid steers
- 4 wreckers
- 10 F-350 trucks
A list of accomplishments during the week-long mission include:
- 124 people rescued from stranded cars
- 264 medical personnel transported
- 77 patients transported
- 3,755 households visited during health and welfare checks
- 9 traffic control points established
- 6 miles of roads plowed
- 8.5 acres of parking cleared