Employee deploys to support debris cleanup following Hurricane Michael

Published June 6, 2019

Traditionally, deployment and mobilization are associated with military personnel – active duty, Guard and Reserve. 

However, there are Department of the Army civilians who volunteer to deploy in support of statewide and worldwide missions.

Marty Wahking, Louisville District Environmental Branch Section chief, returned from a deployment to the state of Georgia in April of this year. 

Wahking, who has worked 25 years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has deployed five times – twice to Iraq, twice to the Virgin Islands and most recently, to the state of Georgia, following Hurricane Michael for disaster duty.

“(For this deployment) I received a phone call on a Monday afternoon and was on the road to Georgia on Wednesday morning,” Wahking said. “It was pretty quick. The need for a mission manager in Georgia came out from headquarters.”

While there, Marty’s role as the mission manager was to organize and communicate all field activities, coordinate and plan staffing needs as personnel moved in and out of the debris mission.

According to Wahking, he would have meetings throughout the morning with his staff, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA), the 13 affected county commissioners and the debris contractor. FEMA, GEMA and the county commissioners required daily reporting of the previous day’s activities, which included the amount of debris collected, reduced and hauled out for disposition.

During the afternoon, if he wasn’t coordinating and planning personnel actions, he would visit sites that needed his direct attention. His day concluded in a final meeting with his resident engineers, environmental specialist and safety manager.

Marty went into this debris mission with the expectation of accomplishing everything he could to get the people and communities of southwest Georgia back to their normal environment and lifestyle.

“Perfect example was one of our TDSRs (Temporary Debris Storage and Reduction Sites) was located in the gravel parking lot of one of the Little League fields in Terrell County,” Wahking said. “We had to get 60,000 cubic yards of debris reduced, hauled off to the final disposal area and the site restored, so the kids could start Little League.” 

While his deployment missions have been unique, going to Georgia was mind-boggling because of the total magnitude of vegetative debris. 

 “We wound up collecting 4.2 million cubic yards of vegetative debris at 25 TDSRs with 34 FDS (final disposal sites),” Wahking said. “Our debris mission boundaries included 13 counties (approximately 5,200 square miles). It would take 2.5 hours to drive from our farthest south TDSR to the farthest north TDSR.” 

With the expanse of the debris and what seemed to be an insurmountable hill, “We wrapped the debris mission up under budget by $60 million and two weeks ahead of schedule,” Wahking said. “The best thing I like about disaster duty is being able to impact the lives of people and communities that have just sustained a devastating blow to their livelihood. Personally, I love the logistics of planning and coordinating personnel and equipment to execute the mission in the most efficient way. The challenges of the always-changing requirements and priorities are just awesome.”

According to noaa.gov, Hurricane Michael is the first hurricane to make landfall in the United States as a Category 5 since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and only the fourth on record. The others are the Labor Day Hurricane in 1935 and Hurricane Camille in 1969. Michael is also the strongest hurricane landfall on record in the Florida Panhandle and only the second known Category 5 landfall on the northern Gulf coast.

“We’ve had a huge amount of disasters over the past (few) years,” Wahking said. “We have a great resource of USACE personnel who are willing to volunteer; however, we could always use more. For this debris mission only, we had around 440 USACE personnel from 43 different USACE home stations – from district to headquarters offices responding. All knowing they have jobs and bosses that need them and coworkers who are covering for them – volunteering is a burden to their current job and families, but they are still willing to help people out. The personal satisfaction of helping people get back to their normal lives is super rewarding.”