As the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island continues to spew lava and ash, the state’s National Guard troops are playing a central role in keeping citizens safe.

Operation Pa’a Mau — which includes both Army and Air Guard personnel — has been underway since May 14. With help from active duty Marines, soldiers and sailors as well as Guardsmen from other states, the Hawaii Guard is securing and assessing the area around the explosion and staying prepared for any necessary air evacuations.

“Our mission here is to save lives, prevent human suffering and to allow the people affected by volcanic activity to live their lives the best they can,” said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Elva Schaben, who has been deployed on the operation for the last month.

A total of 380 Guard troops have been activated in response to the volcano. Some are helping the Hilo Police Department patrol the area, while others are operating closer to the fissures, taking gas measurements to assess the risk to the surrounding communities.

“This is real-world training, boots-on-the-ground training,” said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Ron Anderson, the senior enlisted leader for the Air National Guard. “That is absolutely a force enabler for our folks downrange tied to the war fight.”

At least 600 homes have been destroyed since the volcano eruptions began in early May, according to a report by ABC News. Among those that have lost everything are four Guard troops who continue to serve the community even as their homes and personal lives remain in ruins.

The Guard has sent UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to the scene, although no air evacuations have occurred yet.

Schaben, who also is the senior enlisted soldier for the Hawaii Army National Guard, said the Guard’s team of soldiers and airmen remains prepared to airlift 400 people in four hours, should that be necessary.

“There is no limit to the operation,” Schaben said. “We are working on a rotation plan, but we will still have soldiers here because as we transition, the community is still going to need our support.”

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