News: Combat Soldiers in Iraq prepare for stateside hurricanes
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE TAJI, Iraq — While the 155th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) prepares to re-deploy in early March, it simultaneously prepares for its stateside mission should a hurricane hit the Mississippi gulf coast.
The unit hopes to have preparations complete by the end of February.
Lt. Col. John K. Harlan, the operations officer in charge for the 155th HBCT and a Jackson, Miss., native, said these plans are in preparation for a hurricane making landfall in the Mississippi gulf coast.
"We are planning our part of the overall Mississippi National Guard response to the hurricane, a yearly exercise that we conduct," he said.
Harlan said they received the operations order in the first week of February from Joint Force Headquarters in Jackson, Miss.
"We have to plan for the movement of men and equipment from the Mississippi coastal areas and coordinate operations with local, state and federal agencies," he said.
Those plans are further complicated by the unit's deployment. Harlan said as a National Guard unit, they are required to take on a dual role here.
"That's just the way we do business," he said. "While we currently are concentrating on the federal mission, we still have to allow for planning for our state mission."
Maj. Brent McCullouch, intelligence officer in charge with the 155th HBCT and a Jackson, Miss., native, said the planning began immediately after the unit received the order.
"If we didn't do it now, due to the redeployment, we wouldn't have got it done in time," he said.
McCullouch said his job is to look at and identify critical infrastructure in Mississippi and determine the impact the hurricane would have if it did hit land.
Maj. Rob Edwards, the provost marshal with the 155th HBCT and a Saltillo, Miss., native, said the JFHQ plans the personnel distribution during hurricane season.
"Once the state determines which units are responsible for each county, they divide the units geographically," he said. "Most of the concentration goes to the southern six counties, but during Hurricane Katrina, all of Mississippi was affected."
Edwards said planning has definitely changed since Katrina.
"Now, we are in a proactive mode for responding to hurricanes; now we will go and set up our communications and police services before the hurricane hits," he said. "We now execute our plan according to the worst-case scenario ... which is a Katrina-like hurricane."
McCullouch said the planning process has also been improved since Katrina.
"The best improvement has to be our communications systems," he said. "Now we have the equipment to talk to people, much better coordination for assets that can give us an awareness of where the damage is, and we can get that linked to us quickly so we can respond faster. Before Katrina, we just talked about it, but since Katrina, there is a lot more planning involved."
Harlan said when Katrina hit, the unit was deployed here in Iraq.
"When we deployed last time, Katrina hit and we had to get a lot of National Guardsmen from other states," he said.