ABC11 Exclusive: Tour of Florence aftermath with U.S. Army's top officer

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U.S. Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley is at the top of the chain of the nearly 13,000 Army soldiers in North and South Carolina for rescue and recovery from Hurricane Florence.

MORE: Full coverage of Florence

On Monday, he invited ABC11 along for a tour of the hardest-hit areas south and east of the Triangle.

“We are here for the long haul, and we’ll be here for whatever’s needed as long as it’s needed,” Gen. Milley said.

Before the tour’s three Blackhawk helicopters took off from RDU International Airport, Milley ordered the flight crew to keep the choppers’ doors open so he could get as clear a view as possible of what Florence brought.

“We want to express our condolences to the 17 folks who were tragically lost in this hurricane,” Milley said. “It’s a very, very significant event.”

Later, the death toll rose to 32, with 25 of those in North Carolina.

The Army has emphasized its commitment to the crisis in the Carolinas by sending its top brass here.

Milley began his day with a briefing from state and federal emergency managers at the Emergency Operations Center in west Raleigh. He took notes about the state’s rising rivers and dams in danger of a breach. He also took in a live look at the dozens of impassable primary roads submerged under Florence’s flood waters.

We also captured a private moment in the hallway of the EOC when the general and Gov. Roy Cooper appeared to be discussing how to coordinate the response effort.

“The governor told me that he’s getting everything he needs from the federal government and the army,” Milley said later.

Back in the skies, the worst of what ABC11 saw was in Robeson County. Homes, roads, and crops were flooded and destroyed.

ABC11 touched down briefly at Fort Bragg, where Milley once served as Commanding General of U.S. Army Forces Command. While he delivered a private pep talk to the troops, ABC11 met the other generals organizing the Army’s massive response effort.

We asked Gen. Chris Mohan of the 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command about the Army’s long-term commitment:

“We’ll be here as long as it takes,” he said. “We have soldiers working very hard under difficult conditions who also lost power, who also have got issues at home. But, we’re proud to do it and we’re happy to do it.”

Joint Forces Land Component Commander General Jeff Buchanan explained his role. “We bring together all the resources of the federal side of the military- Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps – not just in North Carolina but in this case South Carolina as well,” he said.

Dual Status Commander Gen. Jim Ernst works under General Buchanan. “It’s my job to coordinate the efforts of both the North Carolina National Guard and the active duty components that come in,” he said.

And as their boss headed back to the Pentagon to prepare his report on what he saw here, Milley was declaring mission accomplished.

“Things are progressing,” Milley said. “There’s a lot of work to do. We’re not out of the woods yet.”

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