PINEVILLE, La. – Louisiana National Guardsmen stand ready while moving quickly as they train to perform search and rescue missions in the event citizens need assistance as flood waters from the swollen Mississippi River rise.
The 2225th Multi-Role Bridge Company, 205th Engineer Battalion has approximately 18 boats and 44 Guardsmen staged for rescues in central and south Louisiana, ready to assist the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, state and local agencies.
The last several days have been spent training on search and rescue operations and procedures, driving the boats, which include MK-2 Bridge Erection Boats and Zodiac vessels, and checking the mechanics of the vessels.
“We went over search and rescue operations [Monday],” said 2nd Lt. Robert Ogden, officer in charge of the search and rescue team staged at Camp Beauregard. “Today, we’re letting everyone get ‘stick’ time, especially on the Zodiacs.”
The Zodiac is a lightweight, stowable vessel that is easy to transport and is able to withstand harsh Louisiana conditions, such as the relentless sun, salt water and harsh marine environments. Able to carry 13 passengers in addition to the two crew members operating the boat, it can maneuver in cramped areas, a necessity during search and rescue operations.
During training this week, 2225th members with search and rescue experience have stepped up to prepare the younger members for possible missions. Sgt. Phillip Martin of New Orleans said during Hurricane Katrina, his unit used flat boats and high-water vehicles to go house to house searching for people in need of help.
“Having experience helps a lot because you can tell [the inexperienced soldiers] what will or what won’t work,” said Martin.
A public safety officer for Gregory Elementary in New Orleans, Martin said being a member of the boat unit has been a perfect match for him during his service in the Louisiana Guard.
“I’ve been in for nine years, and I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “It’s family.”
Pfc. Justin Davis of New Orleans has been in the unit for over a year and attributes the overall preparation of the 2225th to the constant training Guardsmen receive in varying conditions. He said operating the boats on a regular basis keeps everyone refreshed.
“We train in a lot of situations ... in different spots such as Lake Charles or the Spillway,” Davis said.
Confidence and leadership is necessary in the event they need to rescue someone, Davis said.
“People panic and don’t know what to do in some situations. We have to step up and be leaders,” he explained. “I have to step up to help calm them down.”
A full-time manager at a retail store, Davis said his profession in the military has enabled him to progress on the civilian side as well.
“I get a lot of leadership positions at my job because [the unit] puts us in leadership positions to know how it feels,” he said.
Ogden’s teams will hopefully not be needed as the flood waters make their way down the Mississippi River, yet the young lieutenant understands his mission stands above all else.
“[The mission is] why I joined. I want to serve my country and the people around me. This mission is just as important as the oil spill, hurricanes and deployments overseas,” he said. “I’m helping my country and my citizens locally.”
From the lowest ranking member, to the officer in charge of the search and rescue operators, the mission stance is the same.
“We’re ready,” said Ogden. “We’re ready for whatever mission that comes.”