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Updated: 09/13/2017 08:30:01AM

National Guard unit provides support at shelters

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National Guardsman Umar Magee, from Orlando, moves a case of water at the Highlands News-Sun Center shelter on Tuesday.


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SEBRING — While it’s the Boy Scouts who are associated with the motto “always be prepared,” the United States National Guard can make a pretty good case for using it, as well. Not only does the National Guard have to be ready to handle a wide-range of tasks, they also have to be ready to do it at a moment’s notice.

That was how a National Guard unit from Pinellas County found themselves in Highlands County the past few days.

“The counties put in a request for support so we were told to move to Sebring, to the EOC, where we were divied out to provide support for shelters,” said First Sergeant Dennis Godfrey, of Orlando. “Right now this (Highlands News-Sun Center) is the only shelter that is open, but we were supporting five shelters and as they closed we kind of consolidated.”

The special needs shelter was also still open as of Tuesday morning.

Godfrey said the unit was hopeful to move out the majority of its soldiers,

“Right now we’re looking to get some clearance and leave a few people here, but then maybe look for retasking to other counties that may need our help,” he said.

People driving past Firemen’s Field no doubt noticed the National Guard vehicles there, but Godfrey said those are their standard vehicles.

“Those are what we were moving around in and we know we might encounter rough conditions, so our Humvees and larger tactical vehicles can go through water or over obstacles.”

Because the unit is from Florida, they feel a definite bond with those who were seeking shelter and can relate to what they are going through better than most people. But it can be difficult for somebody to leave their home when it’s also threatened.

“Hurricanes affect everybody,” Godfrey said. “We’re from Florida, we’re citizen-soldiers here to help Florida, of course that’s a concern and we try to monitor availability of people to come in. We look at that and access that on a case-by-case basis.”

Godfrey said it’s not always easy for people to drop things suddenly and report for duty.

“Some people aren’t even here,” he said. “Last-minute call-ups can be tough if somebody has a family. If no one can watch their kids it’s difficult to come in.”

While providing support for emergency shelters isn’t the most glamorous task for a National Guardsman, Godfrey says they’re willing to do whatever is needed for the residents of Florida.

“We’re all here and we signed up to help and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.

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