Lahaina, Maui. (August 21, 2023): The servicemembers of the Hawaii National Guard, many of whom are themselves victims of the recent wildfires, have sprung into action to help their neighbors. In this photo by Sergeant Andrew Jackson, search and rescue Soldiers and Airmen assist with recovery efforts as part of the national Lahaina wildfire response. Guardsmen mobilized after the fire to sweep the affected area for dangers before it can be reopened to the public.
Hawaii is unique in having both an Army and Air Force component in their National Guard which has proven especially critical in these types of emergencies. Hawaii’s 154th Air Wing, based at Hickam Field, Honolulu, has extensive airlift capability including refueling squadrons and helicopter fleet. The Army component consists of the 29th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, the 103rd Troop Command, and the 298th Regiment Training Institute. Its medical detachment has the highest readiness percentage than any other unit in the Army National Guard. Together, these units conduct multiple exercises each year to be ready for any emergency. The Guard participates in an annual tsunami response exercise along with active-duty troops from across the Pacific.
Despite this training, nothing could prepare these troops for the grim task that lies ahead. Troops will continue to search for hundreds of missing people in the historic coastal port city of Lahaina. As of this writing, the death toll has risen to at least 114, but unfortunately many more are expected.
Officials estimate at least 2,200 structures have been destroyed and another 500 damaged in the blaze at an estimated cost of about $6 billion.
The Hawaiian National Guard is not alone, however. The American national response has included tasking active-duty units, civilian aid organizations, and investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and the U.S. Marshals Service to help discover the cause of the blaze. Forty search dogs and 470 search and rescue workers have also been deployed.
What is happening in Hawaii is typical of the relationship between the state guard and the citizens they serve. Americans can count on their National Guard to come to their aid even while they are victims of the tragedy themselves.