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    15 Years Later: Massachusetts National Guard remembers activation for Hurricane Katrina response

    15 Years Later: Massachusetts National Guard remembers activation for Hurricane Katrina response

    Photo By Sgt. 1st Class Laura Berry | HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. - Five hundred personnel from the Massachusetts National...... read more read more



    Story by Sgt. 1st Class Laura Berry 

    Massachusetts National Guard Public Affairs

    15 YEARS LATER - Hurricane Katrina
    Story by Sgt. 1st Class Laura Berry
    Courtesy Photos
    HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. - Five hundred personnel from the Massachusetts National Guard were mobilized to conduct relief operations in Louisiana as Task Force Yankee to provide civil and medical assistance in response to Hurricane Katrina Sept. 3, 2005 to Oct. 14, 2005.
    On Aug. 19, 2005, the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, approved a standing Execute Order for US military forces to prepare for the 2005 hurricane season. On Aug. 24, 2005, the National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning for the Southeastern Florida coast as a tropical depression strengthened into Tropical Storm Katrina over the Central Bahamas. By the next day, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on Florida's East Coast as a Category 1 storm and moved southwestward across South Florida and entered the Gulf of Mexico where it continued to strengthen.
    By Aug. 28th, the hurricane had grown to a Category 5 storm (160 mph winds)250 miles south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River. Many states had declared states of emergency and activated the National Guard. On Aug. 29th, President George W. Bush issued a "Disaster Declaration" for Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
    Massachusetts National Guard members started arriving in Louisiana on Sept. 5th.
    Task Force Yankee was comprised of personnel primarily from the 1st Battalion, 181st Infantry, the 211th Military Police Battalion, Joint Force Headquarters and the 102nd and 104th Fighter Wings. They flew in on a KC-135, which was a refueling tanker converted to transport for the mission.
    Most of the task force conducted patrols, searches, communications restoration, and relief operations north of New Orleans, Louisiana, along with 17-person medical team from the 104th Medical Group and a nine-person security forces team from the 102nd Security Forces, which went to Belle Chasse Naval Air Station to conduct medical support operations. Five 5-ton trucks and 26 humvees were also flown into Louisiana from Massachusetts to help.
    "All of this came from about from a conference call with 52 adjutant generals," Col. (RET) Michael S. Finer told reporters in Louisiana. Finer was a major at the time of Hurricane Katrina and the commander of the 1st Battalion, 181st Infantry. "The thinking was, we'll work out the details. Just get them here. People are matched with equipment and sent on a mission."
    Some of the Soldiers from the 1-181st had just returned from a deployment at Gitmo, a detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.
    "We just came off a deployment at Gitmo and then we did some training, so we're in a kind of a rhythm," 1st Lt. Dominic Kidwell told reporters in 2005. The units were given a very short turn around for their mission to Louisiana. "I had planned to paint my deck this weekend," he said.
    Chief Master Sgt. Marc Vercellone, the logistics NCO for the 102nd Security Forces at the time of Hurricane Katrina, was responsible for cargo preparation, load planning and pallet build-up as well as personnel readiness for the nine-person security forces team that went to Belle Chasse.
    "They worked long days (12-18 hours) - often times wading through waist deep water contaminated with sewage, fuel, and refuse of all types to rescue trapped citizens and recover human remains", said Vercellone. "Their living conditions were pretty sparse, but the team stayed focused and in good spirits for the most part."
    From Sept. 6 to Nov. 10, 2005, 123 personnel were activated in support of Operation Helping Hands to provide sheltering capabilities and staff the In-Processing Center at Camp Edwards, Mass. in preparation for 2,500 evacuees of Hurricane Katrina. Ultimately, 216 evacuees were housed at Camp Edwards, not the 2,500 originally anticipated.
    "Military officials are calling them 'guests,' not evacuees or refugees, and promise to make them feel as welcome as possible at what could be their home for many months. We want to make sure our guests are as comfortable and dignified as possible," Brig. Gen. Paul Smith said (who was a lieutenant colonel at the time of Hurricane Katrina).
    "Gov. Mitt Romney said the airlift gives Massachusetts a chance to open its arms to those in need," said Smith. "We're very anxious to hold our helping hand to the people of Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. This is really an opportunity for us to show our compassion in a way that is real and tangible
    and important to the lives of those who will be coming here."


    Date Taken: 10.30.2020
    Date Posted: 10.30.2020 12:48
    Story ID: 382077

    Web Views: 403
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