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New Mexico National Guard transports citizens needing critical medical treatment during blizzard

Story by Sgt. 1st Class Anna Doo

ROSWELL, N.M. – One of the missions currently being performed by members of the New Mexico National Guard is the transportation of Roswell, N.M., citizens in need of dialysis treatments. A blizzard blanketed much of the state Dec. 26-27 and deposited inches to feet of snow amid gusting winds in the eastern portion of the state causing massive snowdrifts. The main east-west interstate was shut down and most of the surface streets were blanketed, rendering them impassable.

Soldiers of the 717th Brigade Support Battalion, based in Roswell, responded immediately with various types of support for their local community. The Soldiers used military vehicles to get to stranded motorists, helped pull disabled vehicles back onto streets, and dug out front doors to homes.

One life-saving mission they are engaged in is the transportation of citizens needing dialysis treatment to the Fresenius Medical Care center. They also drove some health care professionals needed to administer the treatment over the icy terrain. On Dec. 28, the Soldiers picked up six patients and three healthcare workers at their homes, brought them to the facility, and returned them to their residences in military Light Medium Tactical Vehicles (LMTV). At least four patients were assisted Dec. 29, mostly in High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWV).

Pfc. Johnny Estrada, a wheeled vehicle mechanic with the 613th Support Company (Forward), has been on the mission since it began.
“I think it’s awesome they are able to have people like us to call upon and that we have Soldiers here willing to use their time to help people we don’t really even know,” he said. “One of the females we drove had missed a couple of appointments already, so if it wasn’t for us she would have missed another. What we’re doing is a good thing.”

He went on to recount a couple challenges the team had to overcome. Estrada mentioned the road conditions, abandoned vehicles, and assisting some of the patients themselves get from their homes to the waiting military vehicles. He said one citizen they transported today is wheelchair-bound but between Estrada and Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Vaillancourt, they were able to assist her into the HMMWV with no issues.

Vaillancourt, an information technology specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 717th Brigade Support Battalion, was born and raised in Roswell. He said as soon as he realized the National Guard was placed on alert by the Governor of New Mexico, he volunteered to help.

“The community has really taken to us,” he said. “People this morning at the apartment complex we were at grabbed shovels and began to clear the sidewalk knowing we were inside trying to carry the person out to the HMMWV. They were all helpful and thanking us for what we were doing.”

For each patient, there’s a story. For each citizen, there’s a tale of the blizzard of 2015. For the Citizen-Soldiers of New Mexico National Guard, who were able to support their community in a time need, proud memories of a job well done are forming with each safe transport. These Soldiers were able to use their training, expertise and knowledge of the tools of their trade to safely execute this mission and all of the rest currently ongoing.

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