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Redmond Alpha Company’s infantry soldiers assist at Oso
It has been almost a month since the Oso mudslide, and recovery efforts are still going.
Helping in those efforts are members of the Alpha Company 1-161st Infantry Regiment of the Washington Army National Guard in Redmond.
The company has about 150 mechanized infantry soldiers and is led by Capt. Mike McCarthy, who said they were activated April 3.
“We are the only complete National Guard company that has been activated,” he said, adding that they will be there for a few more days. After that, the company will be replaced by another Washington National Guard unit.
A LONG DAY
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Osborne, a Juanita High School graduate who works in and around Redmond as a heating, ventilation, air-conditioning technician, said while they have been up there, the soldiers have been doing everything they can to help the other agencies on site. This ranges from operating heavy equipment such as excavators to searching areas manually on foot. Osborne said they sometimes also have to dewater search areas with pumps as there can be a lot of mud and standing water.
McCarthy, whose civilian job is principal of Covington Elementary School in the Kent School District, said they have a pretty set schedule from day to day. He said they usually wake up around 4:45-5 a.m. and start the day with a briefing at 5:30 a.m. Search crews will typically get to the site around 8 a.m. and work till 5-6 p.m. McCarthy said there are concerns of contamination so searchers go through an hour-long decontamination process before ending the day with more meetings until about 7-7:30 p.m.
“It’s a pretty long day,” he said.
SUPPORTING EACH OTHER
In addition to assisting with search efforts, the soldiers have also been doing humanitarian work in the area such as providing support for local food banks.
While the company has been providing support for the local communities, the communities have been showing their support for the soldiers.
For example, Sgt. Jaime Jamison, an assistant director of advancement for the University of Washington’s School of Social Work, said they send out for laundry service and often times when it returns, there will be paintings, drawings and letters from school children in the area, wishing them well. Also, he said, when they make the six-mile drive from where they are staying to the site of the mudslide, kids waiting for their school buses will wave and flash them thumbs-up signs.
Jamison, who has also served in the U.S. Navy, said after spending time with local firefighters and seeing the genuine concern for their communities on their faces, the soldiers see how everyone in the surrounding communities has been affected by the mudslide. The overwhelming support they have been receiving motivates them to work harder.
“We’re glad to do so,” he said.
Cpl. Taylor Anderson, a federal law enforcement officer based in Seattle, agreed. He said while the work they are doing has the potential to become draining — emotionally and mentally in addition to physically — the sense of teamwork and camaraderie that has been created among volunteers has driven people above and beyond what they thought possible.
Although the 1-161st Infantry Regiment is based in Redmond, McCarthy said the soldiers are from all over Washington, including communities near Oso, so some have “direct connections to the individuals and communities affected by the horrific events on March 22.”
“We get to support our own communities,” McCarthy said.
Even those who are not from the area have been able to relate to those affected by the mudslide, which has claimed 39 lives as of Thursday.
For example, McCarthy said one soldier found a backpack full of toys while searching through debris. The toys reminded him of toys from his childhood so he tracked down the family using the name written on the backpack. Since then, McCarthy said the soldier has organized a fundraiser to support the family, who is staying at a local hotel.
“It is through difficult times like these that we bond together, find commonalities and move forward hand in hand,” McCarthy said.