Ohio National Guard headed to Florida for Irma aftermath

CLEVELAND -- As many as 3,500 Ohio National Guard soldiers will be sent to Florida to help the state with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, the Ohio National Guard’s adjutant general told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Maj. General Mark Bartman said the Ohio National Guard will be part of a contingent totaling around 7,000 soldiers from National Guard units in Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan. Bartman said Ohio soldiers will head to Florida beginning next week and will be available for as many as 30 days.

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Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich provided verbal approval for the deployment Saturday morning after receiving a request from the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C.

“Gov. Kasich is very enthusiastic about helping out Florida any way we can,” Bartman said.

The Ohio Guard’s mission will be varied and could include tasks such as providing security alongside Florida law enforcement officers and helping stranded people get to shelters, Bartman said.

It’s the Ohio National Guard’s first large deployment of soldiers for U.S. disaster relief since Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast in 2005. A small contingent of Ohio Guard members just returned from Texas, parts of which were devastated by Hurricane Harvey.

“Florida is bracing for a severe disaster and Ohio is glad to help in any way we can, just as we did in Texas,” Kasich said Saturday.

Most of the Ohio soldiers will come from the 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team based in Columbus. About 100 members of that unit recently returned from a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.

The National Guard sought volunteers for the Florida mission so that soldiers currently enrolled in college would not have to disrupt their education, Bartman said.

“This is really what the National Guard does best, to respond to any kind of national disasters or threat to the homeland” Bartman said. “We’re citizen soldiers and citizen airmen. They bring very unique talents to these kinds of missions.”

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