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    15 Years Later: The Oregon National Guard Remembers Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

    15 Years Later: The Oregon National Guard Remembers Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

    Courtesy Photo | Oregon National Guardsmen patrol flooded streets during search and recovery operations...... read more read more



    Story by Master Sgt. John Hughel 

    Oregon National Guard Public Affairs Office

    SALEM, Ore. - Hurricane Katrina first began to form into a major storm over the Bahamas on August 23, 2005, and made landfall two days later, cutting across southern Florida as a Category 1 storm. Gaining strength in the Gulf of Mexico, it moved in a northwest direction, building as a massive Category 4 storm -- then slammed ashore near Buras, Louisiana on the morning of August 29; creating a trail of destruction that affected six other states. Katrina became the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, causing widespread flooding and wind damage while claiming over 1,800 lives.

    The response by the National Guard became the largest domestic mobilization since WWII with over 51,000 service members assisting from every single state, territory and the District of Columbia. The Oregon Army and Air National Guard played an integral role; deploying nearly 1,900 members that provided search and recover, medical, communications, security and other vital tasks to aid in the recovery operation.

    Military Police assigned to the 1186th Military Police Company and Security Forces assigned to the 142nd and 173rd Fighter Wings were among the first to deploy to the shattered district. A larger response of service members and equipment left the Portland Air National Guard Base on Sept. 2, as Oregon Soldiers and Airmen brought along ambulances, HMMWV’s, Five-ton trucks, generators with fuel and communication equipment.

    The problems early on revolved around flooded roads downed power lines and trees with only a limited supply of specialized high water vehicles. The Lower 9th Ward had been breached with 6-8 feet of floodwater within hours of Katrina making landfall. When the water began to recede after nearly a week, foot patrols could be expanded and survivors could be accounted for and evacuated out of the more devastated areas.

    As additional troops were needed the 41st Brigade Combat Team established a Brigade Headquarters as Soldiers from the 1-162 and 2-162 Infantry Battalion, along with the 1-186th Infantry Battalion, the 141st Support Battalion, 2-218th Field Artillery, 741st Core Support Battalion and Airmen with the 272nd Combat Communication Squadron were mobilized into the region. Members of the 115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment were also deployed to report and document the various units at work.

    “We are the front line of the response,” said Brig. Gen. Doug Pritt, commander of Oregon’s 41st Brigade Combat Team during Katrina and with JTF Rita, when he talked to reporters during the September 2005 deployment in the area of responsibility.

    “We are the first responders for Task Force Rita,” he said, “Oregon went from covering 75 percent of New Orleans to covering 40 percent of Louisiana.”

    With recovery operations being pushed to the limits, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin issued an emergency declaration authorizing police and military to remove anyone who refused to leave their homes on Sept 6. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began pumping water out of New Orleans with an estimated 60% of the city still underwater.

    The numbers told part of the picture as 25,000 people who have been sheltering in the Superdome were evacuated and the Red Cross reported 52,000 people in their shelters. In the final assessment, Oregon Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen rescued over 2,300 people in New Orleans before being assigned to Joint Task Force Rita on Sept. 23 as this second Hurricane struck the region. Another 200 survivors would later be rescued and accounted for during Hurricane Rita recovery operations as military transport planes were taking survivors to Houston, Texas.

    “We have the ability to come down here and help and by God, we're going to help -- and we're going to help until they tell us they don't need our help anymore," said 41st Brig. Combat Team Command Sgt. Maj. Brunk Conley, during the unit's deployment to Task Force Katrina.

    “Not only are we Soldiers but were citizen with families, jobs and careers -- but we put that on hold to come to our country or states needs when called on to do that,” said Conley, who would later advance through the ranks just seven-year later, becoming the 10th command sergeant major of the Army National Guard.

    In total, the recover effort by the National Guard, accounted for more than 17,000 people being saved from flooding or other hazards triggered by the storms, as more than 51,000 people were airlifted out of the affected areas by the Army and Air National Guard. The combined efforts of National Guard aviation crews accounted for nearly 11,000 tons of cargo airlifted to the affected areas with approximately 7,000 sorties flown.

    “By and large, they (Soldiers and Airmen) said that they’ve never been under such terrible conditions, including those soldiers who have been to Iraq,” said [then] Capt. Michael Braibish, Public Affairs Officer for the Oregon National Guard, “and that speaks to the magnitude of the devastation.”

    It was a difficult assignment for Guard members whose tasks included rescuing survivors, providing medical assistance, and recovering bodies.

    “Katrina tested the mettle of Citizen-Soldiers in a way no deployment overseas ever could,” said [then] Sgt. Kevin Hartman, a public affairs specialist assigned to the 115th MPAD during the Katrina response. Years later, Hartman, now a retired Master Sgt. summarized that “There was the threat of violence in our own nation by our own fellow-citizens and seeing one of our own 1st world cities look like a war-torn post-apocalyptic ruin was shocking.”

    When asked by reporters about the mission that Oregon Soldiers and Airmen were conducting in the aftermath of two horrific storms, Governor Ted Kulongoski said that he was proud of the Guard’s performance, first in response to Hurricane Katrina and now Hurricane Rita.

    “They represent us in an exemplary manner,” he said. “When I sent them to the Gulf States, I reminded them that they are representing Oregon to this nation and that I am proud of the job they are doing.”

    One year after Katrina pounded the Gulf Coast, Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau called the rescue effort by the National Guard, “our finest hour.”

    "There is not a single National Guard entity that did not make a contribution," Blum would later express to a group of congressional committee inspectors. "When you called out the Guard for Katrina, you called out all of America."



    Date Taken: 09.08.2020
    Date Posted: 09.08.2020 19:28
    Story ID: 377537
    Location: SALEM, OR, US 

    Web Views: 179
    Downloads: 0