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Hurricane Katrina recollections

Posted in: August 2006
By Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Matwey
Aug 23, 2006 - 3:03:15 PM

One year ago today, on Aug. 30, 2005, the Delaware National Guard began to mobilize Airmen and Soldiers to prepare to fly to Mississippi and Louisiana to help with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Two C-130 aircraft left from New Castle Airport the next day, on Aug. 31, carrying about 75 troops, the first of just about 400 troops from the Delaware National Guard who assisted fellow citizens on the Gulf Coast.

Below are four first-hand accounts written entirely by Airmen in the Delaware Air National Guard who still serve at the air base at New Castle Airport, Delaware, one year after they along with 400 fellow troops from the Delaware National Guard, both Soldiers of the Delaware Army National Guard and Airmen of the Delaware Air National Guard, started serving from late August through much of September 2005 helping citizens of the Gulf Coast in Mississippi and Louisiana recover from Hurricane Katrina.

Over a dozen Delaware National Guard C-130 transport aircraft missions brought these troops to the Gulf Coast to help in almost a dozen cities and coastal areas in Miss. and La. Delaware National Guard troops served in towns like Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Long Beach and Gulfport, Miss. In Louisiana, they helped in areas north of Lake Pontchartrain, in towns named Slidell and Hammond, and in the city of New Orleans.

Starting with security forces and military police, then civil engineers, communication specialists, ground and air medical personnel, firefighters and other skilled personnel, troops departed every day for the first few days, and then about every other day for the next two weeks. They spent 12-14 hour shifts seven-days-a-week helping in the relief efforts. They provided security, distributed water and food to thousands of civilians, handed out tarps to cover homes and property, restored clean potable water, set up medical facilities from the ground up, provided medical care, got HVAC systems back up and running, restored electricity, established military communications and coordinated their efforts with local authorities, and properly guided took the initiative to help out.

C-130 aircraft were used to their fullest extent possible, performing a modern day equivalent of a Berlin Airlift as they kept troops and supplies moving from Delaware to the Gulf Coast, and flying hundred of civilian patients out of New Orleans to hospitals in nearby safe states, all part of a massive concentrated airlift with the active duty Air Force, Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard and all military services contributing airlift.

Maj. Gen. Francis Vavala, the Adjutant General of the Delaware National Guard, speaking of the performance of the troops of the Delaware National Guard in helping their fellow citizens in the Gulf States, said, "It was our finest hour." On August 31, Delaware was part of a small handful of states first to appear at Jackson Airport, Miss., with troops ready to go, working under the direction of the Mississippi National Guard.

The first-hand accounts:

Senior Airman Beth Brown, a medical technician in the 166th Medical Group who was performing military training at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. when Hurricane Katrina struck, and a resident of Wilmington, Delaware:

"My medical training with the Delaware Air National Guard took me to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss. On my off time I would sit on the Biloxi coastline admiring the calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and large, beautiful homes that lined the adjacent long stretch of Route 90.Never could I have imagined the devastation to come. The eruption of Hurricane Katrina ravaged that serenity. Those old, large, beautiful homes that had stood the test of time were now nothing but massive piles of wood.Route 90 buckled from the power of wind and water, broken and torn as was most of the surrounding region. I returned to the area twice with the Delaware Air National Guard with hopes to put to use what the Guard has taught me and help in whatever way I could. In Bay St. Louis, Miss., a hard hit coastal town, we constructed a 25 bed medical facility of tents capable of minor surgery, emergent and general care to aid the public in lieu of their temporary closed hospital. In New Orleans, we worked in another expeditionary medical facility on a naval base serving the needs of military members working in the community. A year later the memories are still very vivid. They are experiences that will last a lifetime. It is a great feeling to have the opportunity and skills to help and give back."

Tech. Sgt. Dan Lord, a computer draftsman in the 166th Civil Engineer Squadron who served in Hattiesburg, Miss., and a resident of Bear, Delaware:

"Prior to my deployment to Hattiesburg, Miss. I had deployed all over the world, from Panama, Saudi Arabia, Israel, etc. But none of those places had such an impact on me as my time spent helping our own people during the Hurricane Katrina relief missions. We were distributing drinking water and ice to the people of the Hattiesburg area. It doesn't sound like much, but you need to understand that this area was leveled by the storm. There were houses and businesses destroyed, hundred year old trees ripped up from their roots, no electricity or running water. There was a line that went on for miles, sun-up till sun-down everyday for weeks. The look of relief and sincere words of thanks from the local people was both heart warming and heart breaking. It was a difficult time, but something I'll always be glad I participated in."

Lt. Col. Michael Pollock, a medical administrator in the 166th Medical Group who served in the greater New Orleans, La. area, and a resident of Gap, Pa.:

"I served supporting the Expeditionary Medical System (EMEDS) at Belle Chasse Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, La. The impression that I will always be left with from Hurricane Katrina is 'Total Devastation.' Whether it was the 9th Ward, the 17th Street Levy break, or the marinas in Port Sulfur and Venice, devastation was as far as the eye could see. It was apparent to me that it will take over a decade for this region to recover. The big lesson learned for me is; 'There is no way to prevent another Katrina. However, there are ways to prevent the loss of life.'"

Colonel Virginia A. Schneider, Commander of the 142nd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron. She is a resident of Virginia who works full-time in the Washington, D.C area. Colonel Schneider directed over 20 members of her unit to quickly deploy to Louisiana to evacuate hundreds of citizens from New Orleans International Airport to air bases in Texas and other nearby states:

"As the Commander of the 142nd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, I received the call this time last year to request as many volunteers as possible to help with Operation Katrina. We initiated a recall of all personnel and I was so impressed with the response I received. Within a few short hours I had over 20 nurses and medical technicians willing to drop everything to help the people of New Orleans. They assisted with one of the largest civilian medical evacuations in U.S. history. We are all saddened when tragedy strikes the U.S. but we are grateful that we possess a skill and capability to provide medical help when needed."

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