(NaturalNews) While there may come a time in the next week or so that elements of the U.S. military will be tasked with helping civilian authorities restore order in an increasingly hostile environment developing in New York City, New Jersey and other regions hard hit by superstorm Sandy, Guard troops, sailors, airmen and Marines have been providing support and assistance for beleaguered citizens since before the first raindrops fell.
The National Guard announced prior to Sandy making landfall that 61,000 Army and Air Guard troops were alerted for possible duty in storm-ravaged areas; that figure later climbed to about 87,000. In the storm's aftermath, 9,100 soldiers and airmen "had boots on the ground across 12 states," the Guard said in a press release. A separate report put the number higher, at 12,000.
"Since the storm made landfall Monday, Guard members have been assisting local authorities with priority missions such as search and rescue operations, food and water distribution, debris removal and providing security and shelter for storm victims," the release said.
Guard assistance has included search and rescue operations, assistance to keep hospital generators fueled and operational, and provision of food, water and other necessities.
"It's fair to say that the state police and NYPD and the National Guard saved hundreds of lives," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
While Guard units are part of a state's "first responder" network in times of disaster or other emergency, they are not the only military units involved in providing support for those affected by superstorm Sandy. Here are a few examples of what some of the other military branches are doing to provide assistance:
About 300 Marines and sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., deployed aboard the USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship, to provide air logistics support. The personnel, most of whom are members of air crews or maintenance support teams, will augment "the larger relief efforts currently being executed at the federal, state and local level," said Col. Matthew St. Clair, commanding officer of the 26th MEU.
The dozen or so aircrafts - including MV-22 Ospreys and Sea Stallion and UH-1N "Huey" helicopters - will be able to ferry supplies to areas directed by civilian authorities, military officials said.
Marines and sailors are flying 17 planeloads - about 600 tons' worth - of power generation equipment, vehicles and crew members from Southern California were being sent to the northeast, Pentagon spokesman George Little said Thursday.
Nearly 4.5 million customers remained without power more than three days after Sandy struck, causing blackouts that extended from South Carolina to Maine and as far west as Michigan, according to the U.S. Energy Department. Some 1.7 million customers in New Jersey - or slightly fewer than half of all customers - still had no power as of Friday, officials said.
The power-restoration assistance includes 62 trucks and 10 civilian experts from Edison International (EIX)'s Southern California Edison at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Little told reporters.
"Aircraft and crews from 12 active duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve bases across the nation are rotating through March Air Reserve Base in Southern California, where they will pick up 10 civilian power experts, 637 short tons of supplies and equipment to support relief efforts on the East Coast," he said.
The military also is providing 120 high-flow water pumps and more than 400 personnel to the region to drain floodwaters, Lt. Col. Tom Crosson, a Pentagon spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg News.
In all, some 140 helicopters have been assigned by the Pentagon to assist civilian local, state and federal emergency agencies in providing relief, The Christian Science Monitor reports.
"The Pentagon brings its own unique skills and equipment to the nation's natural-disaster response. Mobilizing quickly in the wake of calamity - both forecast and unexpected - is, after all, the U.S. military's specialty," the paper said, adding that in addition to air assets, the Pentagon has sent other specialties such as rescue swimmers and "bucket trucks" to assist with repair and restoration of downed power lines.
In terms of providing basic necessities, Guard troops - along with FEMA - have been providing up to one million meals and bottled water per day to the hardest-hit regions of New York. Cuomo said the meals will go "to lower Manhattan, parts of Brooklyn and Queens and will include the Rockaways that were hit by flooding and house fires," The Wall Street Journalsaid.
The food and water is being flown into John F. Kennedy International Airport and is being distributed from there.
"With the Nov. 6 elections looming, New Jersey will deploy military trucks to its hard hit communities to serve as polling places," AP reported.
"Republican Secretary of State and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno said voters will find 'a DOD truck with a well-situated National Guardsman and a big sign saying, Vote Here,'" AP said.
Guadagno said it was unclear how many of the state's 3,000 polling places were destroyed or damaged by the storm but that she should have a better idea by the weekend.