My name is Staff Sergeant James Ziegler, and I'm a combat engineer in the Hawai'i National Guard. Several guardsmen in my unit, myself included, were activated to assist with the ongoing volcanic activity on the big island of Hawai'i. I thought it would be fun and informative to do a AMA, and my Public Affairs Officer (PAO) gave me the go-ahead on the conditions that I make it clear that I speak for myself, not for the Hawai'i National Guard, Task Force Hawai'i, or any other organization.
My team handles a lot of tasks, including providing a presence patrol, monitoring sulfur dioxide levels, and looking for evidence of new activity. Today I helped escort a media tour through the active area, including camera crews for CNN and NBC. AMA!

edit: I've got to call it a night, ladies and gentlemen, since I need to be up at 3:00am for my shift. I'll answer more when I can.

My Proof: Here's me at a steam field we found the other day

Comments: 1254 • Responses: 38  • Date: 

WiseWordsFromBrett1377 karma

Any Civilians doing dumb stuff like putting themselves in harms way just to have a look?

warrior_scholar2468 karma

similar_observation1007 karma

Hows your search for the elusive Maui going? Are you guys closer to finding the Heart of Te Fiti?

aselunar986 karma

Have you tried turning it off and on again?

warrior_scholar1244 karma

Yes. And I'm sure it's plugged in.

FleshLightTactical45 karma

Have you tried putting 20lbs of C4 on it? Also any spare crayons?

warrior_scholar108 karma

No, but I'll push up the suggestion.

And no marines here, yet.

industrial_hygienus13 karma

How many trophies do you have from Army?

warrior_scholar23 karma

No trophies, one plaque, several coins.

MeanMedianMO524 karma

That Lava looks scary, but has it completed SSD-1?

warrior_scholar414 karma

I don't think it even completed CRM.

brodiebruce47491 karma

Do you now, or have you ever, let your dingle dangle dangle in the dirt?

warrior_scholar652 karma

No. I always tuck my dingle dangle in my shirt.

brodiebruce47190 karma

This is the best thing on reddit

warrior_scholar254 karma

I'm just curious how you knew my favorite running cadence.

80H-d428 karma

Can you become Combat Medic Ziegler?

warrior_scholar595 karma

It was offered to me. Actually, in AIT it was held over our heads as a punishment: If we screwed up they would revoke our security clearance and we would have to become medics.

Good question, merci

nickcodybarrett357 karma

How's life over there? What are you guys doing to stop it? Btw, that's for helping out.

warrior_scholar1036 karma

It depends on where you live.

For residents of Leilani estates, pretty bad. The first dozen fissures opened in the middle of the development and swallowed a couple dozen houses. Police are trying to protect people, but they're stretched thin, so there's quite a bit of looting and some squatting going on in the area. in Seaview, the SO2 levels are a little higher than the Maui Incident Management Team has been willing to work in outside of emergency calls, and the only road out is directly in the path of the current flow. Personally, I'm only suffering from a water shortage, as the big 6.9 earthquake last Friday ruptured my catchment tank and I haven't been able to get it repaired yet.

People have suggested water cannons, digging flow trenches, and making barriers to direct the flow, but these aren't likely to happen: Pele, the volcano goddess, is one of the most sacred deities in Hawaiian culture, and it's generally understood in the community that she does and takes what she wants. Suggesting that she can be controlled is pretty offensive to a lot of people. All we're doing now is trying to keep people safe.

CptSkippy987333 karma

Do you guys have your PT belts to keep you safe?

warrior_scholar195 karma

Absolutely! Those things can stop bullets!

And the road guards have reflective belts, too!

nickcodybarrett275 karma

What are you guys doing to stop it or slow it down?

warrior_scholar592 karma

Nothing: As previously mentioned, local culture dictates that we not try to control Pele. We probably couldn't if we tried, aside from very minor influences. We're trying to keep people safe, mainly by evacuating them.

WARNING_im_a_Prick19 karma

Have you tried emotional battery?

warrior_scholar75 karma

Our vehicle batteries are very emotional, but we're trying to get them stable.

slumdogwannabe260 karma

What did you do to make the gods so angry?

warrior_scholar359 karma

Some locals are blaming the Puna Geothermal Venture for upsetting Pele. Others point out that, so far, the fissures have appeared on both sides of the site but haven't actually hit that property.

edited for a dead link

brandiedbrains249 karma

What do you mean by presence patrol?

warrior_scholar611 karma

People can be awful sometimes: Since the evacuation order several people have been arrested for looting in the evacuation zone, and some residents have returned home to find squatters in their houses. Police are stretched thin. Residents of Leilani Estates requested that the National Guard send a few teams of soldiers in to patrol the neighborhood in order to discourage looters and other ne'er-do-wells and to generally help everyone feel more safe.

MyOtherAvatar119 karma

The maps that I've seen indicate that there aren't very many roads into the evacuation zone. Can't you just block all access routes, and arrest anyone found inside?

warrior_scholar336 karma

There's only one open road in at the moment. But no, we can't do that.

First, you can't go about arresting residents just for being in their house: That isn't a crime. Besides, the mayor is authorizing people in to retrieve property.

Second, the lava might not reach that road or those developments, which would mean that thousands of people, hundreds of animals, and several businesses would be put out for no reason.

Finally, Guardsmen are not actually authorized to arrest people at this time.

tibearius1123229 karma

Have y’all roasted marshmallows with lava? If y’all don’t, no balls.

warrior_scholar434 karma

Not this time: The current lava flow is pretty erratic, with hot lava occasionally spewing out, sulfur dioxide gas, and new fissures opening every day (I think we're at 19 now). Marshmallow roasting is better done on older lava that moves slower and more predictably.

GoRacerGo196 karma

I'm not all that familiar with Hawaiian culture. Are deities actively worshipped in daily life? Has Pele worship changed in response to the eruption?

warrior_scholar401 karma

Depends on the individual. Not usually worshiped, per se, but definitely respected and acknowledged. Lots of important events have rituals that accompany them, such as asking permission from the spirits to use land for different purposes.

One officer with the Hawai'i Police Department told me that they had to drag a woman out of the lava's path when she was praying in front of it, believing that she could stop it with prayer. That incident sounded like she was praying to the Christian God, though. I've seen what appear to be offerings to Pele in several places, and someone mentioned that her favorite offering is gin, which I cannot confirm or deny.

In Leilani, where the first dozen fissures opened, several properties have signs welcoming Pele. Now, 'Iihilani here does and excellent job of describing Pele's place in Hawaiian culture.

sp00nzhx159 karma

Kanaka ʻōiwi here. I can deny that her favorite offering is gin - that propagated because of a tourist stop at Kīlauea that had "offering ceremonies", where people could buy trinkets and bottles of gin to "sacrifice" at the volcano, because some Dutch guy said it was her favorite. It's pure exploitative nonsense.

ETA: The tourist stop mentioned was a thing of the 1800s. An odd time for Hawaiʻi.

warrior_scholar53 karma

Thanks for clarifying that!

Nananananbaa182 karma

Given the chance to pee on lava, would you?

warrior_scholar352 karma

Given the chance and if it was not kapu, sure.

Then again, the whole island is made of lava, so in that sense I already have.

coffeeowlthyme151 karma

What island are you from?

warrior_scholar376 karma

I grew up in Ohio, but Hawai'i is my home.

Hawai'i is both the state and the name of the big island.

coffeeowlthyme40 karma

I figured the guard are coming from all of the islands, that's all :)

warrior_scholar90 karma

They are, but mostly from the big island.

Actually, I think some guys from Arizona's national guard were in Pāhoa fire department, too.

ButtDealer130 karma

Is it hotter than usual?

warrior_scholar190 karma

Not really. We're getting into the dry season, so a little warmer than the last few months, but no noticeable change due to volcanic activity.

Captseawhores103 karma

Why are combat engineers involved? Are there other military trades involved in the process

warrior_scholar135 karma

There are a few units based out of Hilo, including aviation, cavalry, and engineers, as well as at least one Air Guard unit. The missions we have right now are not specific to military occupational specialty (MOS), and I believe everyone currently on state active duty (SAD) volunteered to be activated. The guys in my unit are always eager to be involved, so we make up about 2/3 of the presence patrol group and a significant portion of the security group.

I know we also have mechanics, signal, fuelers, and a medic on the ground on a daily basis, and the aviation company is prepping their birds in case they need to evacuate areas that get cut off.

VorVixen102 karma

Do you leave whiskey or gin for Pele? If so do you just leave it there or do you drink with her? Me personally I think she needs a drinking buddy with all the alcohol she gets.

warrior_scholar363 karma

Current policy prohibits us from taking alcohol in the vehicles, and even if I could while on orders, in uniform I'm afraid my girlfriend would get jealous if I was drinking with another woman.

However, with what she's throwing I'm beginning to think she's requesting Fireball.

trovo7395 karma

Did you or anyone you know poke the lava with stick? You know, just because.

warrior_scholar187 karma

Funny story, my father used to give out lava poking sticks.

Generally lava viewing takes place in older flows, where the fresh lava moves more slowly and is more predictable. It's also frequently a long hike over rough lava rock. My father, an arborist by trade, loaded his truck with waiawī walking sticks and parked near the trail with a tip jar out. He'd also occasionally hike up and char the edges of post cards to give out the same way. He was sent away for selling without a license, but didn't actually get in trouble because he wasn't selling, just giving stuff away and accepting donations in return.

AgoraiosBum69 karma

Are the Waponi doing anything to appease the gods?

warrior_scholar54 karma

You lost me.

guitarhamster41 karma

Are army reservists called too or just the guards?

warrior_scholar86 karma

Currently, only the Guard.

We've got a special status where we can be activated by either the state or federal government. Reserves, I believe, are federal only. Currently we're activated by the state, under orders from Governor Ige.

mwarner81136 karma

What is the protocol involved in this situation?

warrior_scholar54 karma

I'm going to need clarification. Protocol for what situation?

edit For what part of the current situation? There are a lot of things going on, and the protocol for all the stuff we're dealing could easily fill a book. It probably fills several, in fact.

mwarner81127 karma

What are the standard operating procedures for you in regards to a volcanic eruption?

warrior_scholar82 karma

Safety first. Really, there's no established army-wide SOP for volcanoes, so we take our cues from Civil Defense.

Outside of an immediate emergency we aren't supposed to get close to the lava, drive over fresh cracks in the road (potentially a sign of an imminent fissure), and keep SO2 sensors in every vehicle and at every checkpoint. SO2 is currently our primary concern, since it's invisible, wide-spread, and toxic. As such, we keep our gas masks within arms reach and avoid areas where it's elevated (2+ppm).

As for the big eruption that's expected in the next few days, we're doing it by the book.

Meowsilbub22 karma

What's the highest SO2 levels you've seen so far? Pahoa High got to nearly 5ppm.

warrior_scholar41 karma

I've been at Pahoa High's intersection quite a bit, but never saw it that high. Personally, the highest I've seen was 1.7, and since the incident management team advised us not to hang out if it went over 0.5 we headed out of there pretty quick. I overheard the guys at the fire station saying that they had gotten readings of 80ppm, but only really close to a vent.

Meowsilbub22 karma

That's interesting! They had us "shelter in place" and the email out said they got readings of 3 and as high as 5.

warrior_scholar20 karma

Was this on Thursday last week?

Meowsilbub15 karma

Yup. They said highest was around noon.

warrior_scholar39 karma

I was outside the high school at that time. I think your administrators may have misinterpreted the readings: I was with the Incident Management Team guy (Jeff something), and the readings were between 0.3 and 0.5. Their guidelines suggest that that level is generally safe, but around 1.01 may be mildly unsafe for people with sensitivity to it, like asthmatics. At 5.0 they require their personnel to don gas masks and leave the area, if possible.

OtterApocalypse22 karma

My parents live on Oahu. Since I feel that we now have a strong personal connection through Reddit and your post, can I count on you to assist my parents in the event of a catastrophic eruption?

I need to know someone is looking out for them...

warrior_scholar89 karma

Wrong island, friend. Oahu is perfectly safe at the moment.

VIIX13 karma

Are you going to try to catch Groudon?

warrior_scholar11 karma

If I get the chance!

LaSage7 karma

Which masks could redditors send to best help residents who may be in the path of dangerous levels of vog? Is there an item that can make or break surviving if the wind blows it ones's way?

warrior_scholar17 karma

Civil Defense says there are very few masks available to civilians that help with dangerous SO2 levels. Most filter particles, not gas. However, the big crater might blow real soon, which would drop an ash cloud on several communities. Those guys could really use some painter's masks and goggles. The make-or-break item might be SO2 sensors, since I understand that you can get desensitized at higher levels, but they're being sourced at around $500/each.

feminist-horsebane-8 karma

How do you feel about the lack of response from Trump?

warrior_scholar25 karma

Honestly, I've been too busy to follow the news much lately. I understand he released FEMA funds, but aside from that I've been too focused on taking care of my soldiers and trying to help my community to pay attention to politics.