10,000 More Guard Troops to Support Military's Hurricane Response
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 31, 2005 More than 11,000 Army and Air National Guard members and 7,200 active-duty troops, mostly Navy, are supporting hurricane relief operations along the Gulf Coast, and 10,000 more National Guard troops are expected to join the effort within the next 48 hours, Defense Department officials said today.
Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told Pentagon reporters today the additional troops, who hail from 13 states outside the region, will be evenly divided between the hardest-hit states, Mississippi and Louisiana. There, he said, they will augment forces already on the ground helping law enforcement agencies with security and traffic control; transporting and distributing food, water and ice; conducting searches and rescues; providing generator support; and carrying out other missions to support life and property.
About one-third of the added troops will be military police, to help civilian law enforcement authorities guard critical facilities, prevent looting, apprehend curfew violators and assist in law-and-order enforcement, Blum said.
More National Guard engineers also will join the relief effort, helping clear roads of obstructions that block movement into and out of the affected areas, and transportation units will bring fleets of 5-ton trucks capable of maneuvering through heavy floodwaters to deliver desperately needed equipment and supplies.
In addition, the Idaho Air National Guard will deliver handheld radios donated by the National Firefighting Service to help ease communication problems throughout the region due to downed cellular nets, he said.
As the added National Guard forces mobilize to support what's being called one of the largest disaster-response mobilizations in U.S. history, the Guard will continue to respond to governors' requests. Blum said he expects those requests to change as the situation on the ground evolves and more information becomes available.
All units, regardless of mission, will arrive in the region self-sufficient and ready to operate with no need for food, water, medical or fuel support so they don't burden on-the-ground operators, Blum said. "We'll come with our own solutions," the general said.
Meanwhile, every National Guard except those in Hawaii and Guam either is supporting the relief effort or is prepared to respond if needed, Blum said.
Meanwhile, U.S. Northern Command is coordinating DoD's active-duty support for the hurricane relief mission, Air Force Brig. Gen. Terry Scherling, deputy director of antiterrorism and homeland defense for the Joint Staff, told reporters.
The initial focus is on preventing loss of life, restoring infrastructure and maintaining confidence in the government, she said.
In addition to establishing Joint Task Force Katrina at Camp Shelby, Miss., to coordinate support operations among NORTHCOM, other DoD elements and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the command is supporting recovery operations with aviation and naval assets needed now, with seven ships and 60 helicopters already committed.
But Scherling said she expects DoD's contribution to increase as governors identify more needs. Already, the military is preparing to provide 4,000 to 5,000 hospital beds, both ashore and afloat, in the affected region.
Earlier this afternoon, Paul McHale, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense, said DoD anticipates sending a 500-bed mobile hospital to the New Orleans area, as well as USNS Comfort, a Baltimore-based hospital ship. Comfort is expected to leave its homeport Sept. 2, arriving in the region around Sept. 8, McHale said.
McHale said a request for the military to contribute as many as 800 people to assist the American Red Cross with shelter support "is under active consideration," and DoD has 1.5 million cases of field rations available if needed.
As the military responds to immediate needs, Scherling said, DoD planners are looking ahead so they're prepared to respond to needs yet to be identified. "We're leaning forward and anticipating what is going to be needed," she said.
McHale echoed that message during a joint news conference today in which Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and representatives of various federal agencies outlined the extent of the disaster response.
DoD is "a fully cooperating partner" that's working proactively so it's already ready to act when called upon, McHale said. "We're forward deploying everything that we think may be required by FEMA," he said, "and will be fully prepared to respond to FEMA's requests for assistance when they inevitably are forthcoming."
President Bush, addressing the nation today in the Rose Garden, announced the formation of a Cabinet-level task force headed by Chertoff to coordinate the federal response to what he called "one of the worst natural disasters in our nation's history."
The recovery "will take years," he said. "This is going to be a difficult road. The challenges we face on the ground are unprecedented, but there is no doubt in my mind that we are going to succeed."
The president gave assurance to residents of the affected region, whose days he acknowledged "seem awfully dark" in light of what's happened to their homes and communities. "The country stands with you," Bush said. "We will do all in our power to help you."