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NEWS | Sept. 1, 2023

JTF-50 Dedicated Safety Efforts Continue in Lahaina After Wildfire

By Staff Sgt. Matthew Foster 117th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

U.S. Soldiers and Airmen of the Joint Task Force 50 (JTF-50), Operation “Ola Hou” have maintained entry control points (ECP) and conducted security operations around the perimeter of the heavily damaged areas of Lahaina, Maui to ensure the safety and welfare of the community.

The Soldiers and Airmen of the JTF-50 have worked diligently to protect the integrity of Lahaina and the personal property of the community.

“We’re here to assist the Maui Police Department in any way that we can,” said Hawaii Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Peter Mathre, a security forces law enforcement officer and a security force officer assigned to JTF-50. “We’ve set up a perimeter, conducted escort duties for authorized personnel and we want to ensure that all the Lahaina residents’ property is protected.”

The residents of Lahaina, Maui, were forced to quickly evacuate their homes and leave their possessions behind due to the rapidly spreading wildfire that destroyed the historic town.

“By controlling the entrance point, we can ensure that the proper personnel are going in and out and help the community as well, by making sure that the recovery personnel are able to work without hassle or obstruction,” said Hawaii Army National Guard Spc. Kawika Low, a cannon crewmember assigned to JTF-50. “We do have a lot of engagement with the community and we try to show support for the workers and the residents.”

The impact of their responsibility in controlling access to Lahaina is a difficult task, but essential to the JTF-50 response efforts.
“We want to show our support to the Maui residents and for them to know that they are not forgotten,” said Mathre. “We want to make sure that they do receive the help and assistance that they need, during this time of tragedy.”

The security of the residences of Lahaina is an important aspect to the roles of the JTF-50.

“What we are doing is extremely important, to keep peoples’ property and possessions safe from looters and keeping the area secure and safe for the community to come back to,” said Low.

For members of the Hawaii National Guard, being able to serve within their own communities hits close to home.

“I am from Oahu, but I do have family here that were affected by the fire,” said Low. “It definitely gave me a purpose to be up here and want to help.”

The commitment to provide assistance is a perspective shared by numerous Soldiers and Airmen within the JTF-50's security forces.

“It is humbling, I want to help out the community in any way that I can,” said Mathre. “The residents of Lahaina and those impacted by the wildfires have been through so much, and I want to be here and help out in whatever way that I can to help them get through this time of crisis.”

To be able to serve in uniform, within their own communities, is why service members of the Hawaii National Guard choose to serve.

“Serving in uniform with the Hawaii Army National Guard gives me the opportunity to support my home and community and play a role in the response to this tragedy that has impacted so many people in the islands,” said Low. “I feel like this is a great opportunity to come and support Hawaii, by being in the Hawaii National Guard, it's a great feeling to be able to help and support the people at home within the community and I’m honored to be here.”

The sentiment of "serving with honor" is a feeling shared by many Soldiers and Airmen within the Hawaii National Guard.

“As a Hawaii Guardsman, I am here to serve the community, this is the reason that I enlisted, to serve the people and help them in any way that we can through this horrible tragedy that occurred here in Lahaina,” said Mathre. “I’m proud to be able to serve the people of Hawaii.”

The importance and impact of their role and responsibility in controlling access to Lahaina is paramount to securing the future for some Lahaina residents.

“We want to make sure that the Lahaina residents receive all the support that they can, and provide any assistance to them, " said Mathre. “Through the next phase we want to help the residents get back to their property, so that they can get back to their homes and they can get a sense of closure.”

The residents of Maui and specifically Lahaina have endured loss and destruction due to the wildfires but remain strong in their perseverance and fortitude.

“The Maui community, especially in Lahaina, is very strong,” said Low. “We have a lot of support from the community and from our civil partners, and I greatly appreciate all the support we’ve received from the community.”