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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Katrina Rescues: Dedicated Soldiers of the National Guard

Joe Roche has sent another email relating the experiences of his wife, Lili, who (as a member of the DC National Guard) is part of National Guard rescue operations in Louisiana:
The soldiers are showing amazing motivation and endurance. You and everyone should be extremely proud of our military women and men who have put on such an incredible and great effort to turn around the disaster situation in New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Someday, when the politicization and debate of the issues are forgotten and old, I think history will record this whole operation by the military as amazingly fast, effective and life-saving.

And specifically of the Louisiana National Guard soldiers she has met and befriended, she says, "these people irregardless are holding their head high and moving forward even when their future is completely obscured by the world around them."

Kellogg, Brown & Root, better known as Halliburton, is doing amazing stuff at Naval Air Station New Orleans. Just like in Kosovo, Baghdad, Khandahar and everywhere else our soldiers deploy to harsh conditions, KBR (as we call them in the military) has rushed in and set up huge dining facilities, brought in comforts and standard-of-living improvements, and made life on base in New Orleans far more better than it otherwise would be with the huge arrivals. One facility they set up is "like hundreds of tents long, huge!" She said they have good food and a lot of variety. They have also set up and facilitated the arrival and assembly of many many other things that are improving conditions there for the soldiers.

Soldiers and other military-related units are continuing to arrive at a very fast and large pace. She said that a couple nights ago, a huge convoy of flat-bed trucks pulled in late, and the soldiers had to initially sleep on the flat-beds because of the size and logistics of their arrival. Nonetheless, there are areas that are "tent cities" on base for housing the soldiers.

There are also some nice New Orleans eateries setting up on base. Biker Bob's is apparently one of the favorites. They have set up and are now feeding soldiers, the contractors, and everyone else on base at a huge rate every day all day long. I think their place was wiped out in the hurricane's aftermath, and so they have set up ad hoc on base to help and support the rescue and relief efforts of our soldiers.

The New Orleans' SportsBar near the base has also set up on base a place to feed and entertain them.

Wal-Mart is also on base giving away free stuff that she said is helping a lot.

These are nice things because the heat and humidity returned last week with a vengeance. Lili said that when she walks to the DFAC, her uniform is soaked and dripping with sweat. Her unit and others have also had to do an increasing number of Medivac missions for military contractors who get sick from the infections, viruses and toxins in the city.

She said, however, that life there is getting into patterns and routines that are important and good for the soldiers. This all helps bring peace-of-mind, keeping morale up, and aiding in personal recovery in between missions, and all this goes to facilitating better and better performance.

The water was being drained out of the flooded parts at an amazingly fast rate. Something like a billion gallons of water an hour, I think she estimated? One machine is pumping something around 21,000 gallons a second! I have to admit that this is beyond my ability to comprehend.

She did say that when she and the other soldiers go running, their lungs feel like they have been in a smoking room because there are so many pesticides, sprays and maybe even a few toxins in the air.

She told of a wild account when a C-130 flew just 150 feet in the air over the city spraying stuff around. Her unit's helicopters were tasked with following and monitoring its mission.

She has done some neat side-missions too, such as last week when she drove up to Baton Rouge in a convoy to drop off the vehicles her unit had taken to deploy down to New Orleans. She and the others picked up dinner from some of the good places in Baton Rouge, then flew back in the Hueys to New Orleans and fed the others.

With routine and relaxation coming to the base for the soldiers, she said that despite the huge pace of operations and arrivals, it feels quieter there. They are bracing themselves for the anticipated mayhem from when the residents of the city start returning in droves. Right now there are some New Orleans residents and, of course, Louisiana National Guard living on base with them who she talks with and befriends. She said, "everyone, it seems, is tired of hearing about the hurricane but they seem willing to tell me their personal stories."

The LA NG have some of the most heart-wrenching stories because many of them are from the most stricken parts of the city and Louisiana, and they have next to nothing left. These soldiers ran from their houses with just the bare essentials to get to their units, and have deployed all this time not knowing what is going on with their homes, families and belongings. One commander told her it took two weeks for him to locate his grandson who had been left at a hospital in New Orleans. Many of the LA NG have traumatic family and home situations going on that they are nonetheless coping with as they continue to do missions and perform for their military units. I find this inspiring and amazing.

Another one whose extended family has lost their houses, jobs and everything else, is solely taking care of them because as a LA NG, he is the only one with a job. Despite all this that would probably overwhelm anyone else, he did many vital things to facilitate and do his part for his unit at the start of the operation. Now, however, because of a bad heart, his unit has had to let him go. In despair, he told her, "New Orleans is dead, it will never be a great city again...at least in my lifetime." ...In an email from Lili, she describes this soldier's plight in more detail, which I'll forward after this.

Another LA NG commander described how "some of the young people in his unit had just gotten married and were finally just now getting their feet on the ground in a difficult city and moving out of their poverty only to lose everything" because of the storm and flooding.

Nonetheless, the military missions continue, setting up what is emerging as one massive gargantuan enterprise that is going to do amazing things over the coming weeks and months. Again quoting her about the LA NG she is with, "these people irregardless are holding their head high and moving forward even when their future is completely obscured by the world around them."

With humility, Lili is fails to say this about her unit too. (I/we will point out!)

That is all.

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Posted by Amy Ridenour at 1:12 AM

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