Marines and sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit step off a landing craft utility vehicle onto the shore of Breezy Point, a small coastal community in New York City, on Nov. 9, 2012, to assist local authorities overwhelmed with the destruction created by Hurricane Sandy. (Cpl. Bryan Nygaard / Marine Corps)
Marines who helped residents of New York and New Jersey dig out from the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy last fall may be eligible for a Humanitarian Service Medal, according to the Defense Department.
The super storm pummeled the region Oct. 29-30, causing severe flooding that destroyed homes and left millions without electricity for weeks. It is blamed for causing nearly 200 deaths in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean.
Commanding officers will determine Marines’ eligibility for the medal, said Navy Lt. Courtney Hillson, a spokeswoman at the Pentagon. To be eligible, the following criteria must be met:
■ Marines had to be deployed to New York or New Jersey between Oct. 29 and Nov. 25.
■ The deployment had to be related to Hurricane Sandy.
■ Marines had to be performing humanitarian assistance while there.
■ Reservists must have been on active-duty status.
A future administrative message will provide further guidance, said Maj. Shawn Haney, a spokeswoman for the Marine Corps’ awards branch in Quantico, Va.
About 320 members of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., arrived in the region Nov. 1. With their pre-deployment exercises on hold, they joined the amphibious assault ship Wasp, which anchored five miles off the shore of New York City’s Brooklyn borough. They remained based there until their return to Camp Lejeune on Nov. 12.
Marines and sailors with the MEU were first called off the ship Nov. 3 to help repair a damaged ferry terminal in Hoboken, N.J., which is just across the Hudson River from New York City. A group of about 20 removed debris at the ferry pier, which serves as the city’s main commuter hub.
The next day, about 120 Marines with the MEU were called to assist in New York City’s Staten Island borough, the community most devastated by the storm. They went door-to-door, assisting residents shovel thick mud brought in by 20-foot waves and a 14-foot storm surge. They also helped move heavy appliances filled with mud from the flood waters.
Another 87 Marines with Lejeune’s 8th Engineer Support Battalion brought water pumps north to help the city dry out. The engineers began their work removing more than a million gallons of water from a 34-building low-income housing complex in the Far Rockaway neighborhood, part of New York City’s Queens borough. Then they moved to the Breezy Point neighborhood to pump more water and remove debris from residents’ houses.
They were equipped with industrial-strength pumps that could remove up to 600 gallons of water per minute.
Also in the region were personnel and aircraft from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 366 and Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 467, both out of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. They assisted with transportation needs.
Staff writer Tony Lombardo contributed to this report.