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National Guard helping N.Y. crews with storm relief

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Jared Brotsky was shocked by the scene: houses destroyed on every street, piles of debris lining the streets, water damage everywhere he looked.

"It's one thing to see it on the news, but to see it in person is another thing," he said.

Brotsky, a senior airman in the West Virginia National Guard, was sent to New York City last week with seven other National Guard members from West Virginia. Brotsky is from Teays Valley.

The small team has been working in Brooklyn and Queens, helping residents recover from Hurricane Sandy.

They were summoned by a request from New York on Saturday. Within five hours, the seven guard members had flown out of Charleston with two Humvees and were "boots on ground" in New York.

"This is what I joined the Guard for, to help my state but also the whole country," Brotsky said.

Brotsky, 21, has been a member of the West Virginia National Guard for about three years. This is the first time he has been sent out of state.  

He and the rest of his team have been helping local crews restore power for the thousands of New Yorkers still without electricity and heat more than a week after the storm — and now in the aftermath of the snowstorm that swept through the city this week.

Far Rockaway, in Queens, was one of the hardest hit neighborhoods in the storm. The four-block area on a peninsula was overwhelmed by water from the Atlantic Ocean on one side and Jamaica Bay on the other.

The West Virginia teams have spent most of their time there, in the basements of large public housing complexes, assessing damage to boilers and electrical panels that are supposed to provide heat and water to wide swaths of the neighborhood.

Their most recent project has been on a machine that services 23 apartment buildings with 600 residents in each. (They also pumped out at least 3,000 gallons of water, which had been slowing crews' progress there all week.)

The team from West Virginia includes people with a working knowledge of power production. Brotsky is working on a related degree at Kanawha Valley Community and Technical College. Another team member works at Marshall University's physical plant. All have training or experience in such systems through the military.

"My education and my military training go hand in hand," Brotsky said. "But what we're doing here, I've really been prepared for by the military."

Master Sgt. Ryan Powers has been a member of the West Virginia National Guard for 21 years and said he has been sent out of state on missions at least four times.

"This is probably the worst devastation I've seen," he said.

But the New Yorkers they've encountered have been in basically good spirits, he said. They are bolstered by the Guard's presence in their neighborhood because it means the prospect of running water, heat and electricity — necessities they've been sorely lacking since the storm.  

"People regularly thank us for what we've been doing," Powers said. "They're very happy that we're here."

Contact writer Shay Maunz at or 304-348-4886.


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