If a major earthquake strikes the Puget Sound region, the Navy could play a critical role in getting supplies and assistance to residents in isolated places.
That’s why the Navy is an important part of the Washington National Guard’s preparations for what disaster planners consider to be an overdue temblor on the Cascadia Subduction Zone.
The Guard and the Navy practiced one part of the earthquake emergency response they anticipate Monday when Army helicopter pilots joined the aircraft carrier USS Stennis in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
It was a warmup to much larger exercises that the Washington National Guard is planning for this year and next that are meant to test how the state would respond to an earthquake that knocks out bridges around the Puget Sound region.
Washington National Guard commander Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty outlined those plans in an interview with The News Tribune last month. His concerns about a potential earthquake are shaping his priorities for domestic training and his requests for new equipment to replace the National Guard’s tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
The Washington National Guard sent Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters to the ship. They’re the helicopters that the Guard uses to fight wildfires at home and to move troops around the battlefield when they deploy overseas.
The active-duty Army at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, meanwhile, sent some of its Apache attack helicopters to the Stennis.
Normally, Navy and Marine helicopter teams take most military maritime assignments. The 16th Combat Aviation Brigade at JBLM is practicing carrier landings in anticipation of more operations along the Pacific Rim in coming years.
The home port for the Stenins is at Naval Base Kitsap. It recently completed a 16-month renovation in dry dock and has been out to sea for training several times since December.