tennessee-guard-air-crew-saves-stranded-hikers-on-new-years-eve

The early morning hours of New Year’s Eve proved a little more eventful than the average holiday duty day for a handful of Tennessee Army National Guard soldiers.

That’s because shortly before 5:15 a.m. two hikers were stranded in the dark, surrounded by drop offs and cliffs on both sides of them in the Sampson Wilderness Area near Johnson City, Tenn., according to a Tennessee Military Department release.

Local law enforcement got the emergency call but couldn’t access the hikers.

So, they requested air support.

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Guard soldiers with the 1-230th Assault Helicopter Battalion out of Knoxville prepped their UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, piloted by 1st Lt. Samuel Gibson and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Andrew Redley and lifted off at about 8 a.m., found the hikers by 8:45 a.m.

Staff Sgt. Ryan McKnight, crew chief, and flight paramedics Sgt. 1st Class Giovanni DeZuani and Staff Sgt. John Sharbel got the hikers on board by 9 a.m. and treated the hikers for minor injuries on the way to their destination.

Sgt. 1st Class Giovanni DeZuani, a flight paramedic, is lowered from a UH-60 Blackhawk near Derrick Knob Shelter to rescue a hiker in distress along the Appalachian Trail, Sept. 20, 2022 in a separte rescue effort from the one later performed on New Year’s Eve. (Tennessee National Guard)

And by 9:16 a.m., the two hikers were at Johnson City Medical Center, according to the release.

That’s one very recent story of some life-saving work by the Guard. The Army published a recent release tallying the work of the Guard over the past year.

Throughout 2022 an estimated 142,000 Guard members responded to wildfires across 19 states, 18,000 to floods across eight states, 12,000 to winter storms across 19 states, 1,700 to tornadoes and 1,000 for severe weather and volcanic activity.

Staff Sgt. Ryan McKnight lowers Staff Sgt. John Sharbel during a recovery mission on the Appalachian Trail, Dec. 31, 2022. (Contributed photo)

Hurricane Ian marked the year’s largest single-event disaster relief operation for Guard emergency response. More than 63,000 Guard troops from Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington responded — saving over 2,000 people and 50 pets, according to the Army release.

“As Guardsmen, it’s an honor and pleasure to be able to serve in disasters like this. When you see disasters like this, it’s awful and you want to be able to plug in and do your part to serve,” Air Force Capt. Jason Davis, a civil engineering officer with the Florida Guard’s 202nd Red Horse Squadron, said in the Army release.

The Guard conducted relief operations simultaneously in Puerto Rico and Alaska in September following Hurricane Fiona and Typhoon Merbok.

More than 14,000 Puerto Rican and Virgin Islands National Guard members answered Gov. Pedro Pierluisi’s call for help after Fiona’s heavy rains and damaging winds caused widespread damage, flooding, mudslides and power outages in Puerto Rico. Rescue teams evacuated more than over 1,000 people.

Remnants of Typhoon Merbok struck the western coast of Alaska on Sept. 17, necessitating the activation of Joint Task Force Alaska – which included an estimated 1,500 Alaska Guard troops.

Staff Sgt. Ryan McKnight pulls a patient onboard a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter during a recovery mission on the Appalachian Trail, Dec. 31, 2022. (Contributed photo)

The task force removed more than 125,000 pounds of debris and logged more than 2,000 work hours across 16 communities. Alaska Army National Guard helicopters also flew more than 7,000 miles, logging 70 flight hours.

And a few soldiers in some hard-hit areas didn’t get quite the holiday break others enjoyed late in the year.

In the last week of 2022, an estimated 1,000 Guard members were activated nationwide for disaster relief operations such as winter storm responses and wildfires, according to the Army release.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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