News from the Oklahoma National Guard

NEWS | Feb. 5, 2022

Oklahoma National Guard concludes stranded driver assistance mission

By Sgt. Anthony Jones, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team

The Oklahoma National Guard has successfully concluded a multi-day state active-duty mission where Guardsmen assisted the Oklahoma Highway Patrol in rescuing stranded drivers during a winter storm that left highways dangerous for travelers.

Around 40 Soldiers from the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team were dispatched in four teams of 10 Guardsmen to Durant, McAlester and Vinita, Oklahoma in order to assist the Highway Patrol in rescuing stranded motorists.

In total, the teams conducted 10 recovery missions and helped the OHP get more than 100 motorists back on the road safely.

Soldiers worked under the direction of Highway Patrol Troopers in tasks ranging from patrolling highways looking for stranded drivers to clearing blocked highways and even pushing cars by hand back onto Oklahoma roads.

The largest single accident the Guardsmen responded to was a multi-tractor trailer pile up in the predawn hours of Feb. 3. The backup caused a significant traffic jam on Interstate 40 between Okemah and Henryetta, Oklahoma for more than eight hours.

Oklahoma Guardsman 1st Lt. Brent Welch, an Edmond, Oklahoma resident and member of the 45th IBCT’s 1st Squadron, 180th Cavalry Regiment, served as the officer in charge for the stranded motorist assistance recovery teams based in McAlester, Oklahoma that responded to the wreck.

He said once Soldiers arrived on scene, they went vehicle to vehicle checking on the motorists who were waiting for the highway to be cleared. Welch estimates his Soldiers made contact with drivers from 85 vehicles and provided blankets, water and food to travelers in need.

Welch, a University of Oklahoma graduate, said that his team was also able to, at the direction of the Highway Patrol, use a military wrecker operated by Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 160th Field Artillery Regiment, to open a path for smaller vehicles to navigate through the pile up.

“I think it’s fantastic that we had the ability and opportunity for the National Guard to interact with and help our local communities by communicating and working with local law enforcement and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol,” Welch said.

In Northeastern Oklahoma, two teams from the 1st Battalion, 279th Infantry Regiment, 45th IBCT, were staged in Vinita, Oklahoma and tasked with supporting the OHP along the Will Rogers Turnpike. That’s where Pfc. Kevin Trombley, a Nowata, Oklahoma resident, was stationed after volunteering for his fourth state active-duty mission in his four years in the Oklahoma National Guard.

Trombley said thankfully the team he was assigned to did not see a multi-vehicle accident nor large-scale traffic jams like the McAlester team, but he did have the opportunity to help one driver who drove into a snowdrift.

Trombley and several other Soldiers pushed the vehicle out of the drift by hand and were able to get the driver safely back on the road.

“This is why I joined. I like being able to help my state and jumped at the chance to do that,” Trombley said. “The Guard plays a big part in helping people and Oklahomans know we’ll be there for them when they need us.”

In Calera, Oklahoma, Oklahoma National Guard members faced a challenge that took more than a few hands to fix. A semi slid off the highway and was in danger of rolling over while a civilian wrecker was pulling the big rig out of the ditch.

Soldiers from the 180th CAV and the 700th Support Battalion, 45th IBCT assisted the recovery by stabilizing the semi’s trailer, preventing it from rolling.

Staff Sgt. Julio de León Jr, a wheeled vehicle mechanic with Company B, 700th BSB and Slaughterville, Oklahoma resident and 22 year veteran of the Guard, served as the recovery non-commissioned officer in charge that helped recover the stranded semi. He said missions like this help local law enforcement maintain clear highways and shows Oklahomans the National Guard is there for them in times of need.

“[Missions like this] remind us this is what makes us different from our active-duty counterparts. We are part of the local community," de León said. “Our presence brings hope to our community, comforts people and gives them a piece of mind that all will be okay.”
Video by Sgt. Anthony Jones
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