Texas National Guard Supports Texans, Neighbors
By Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
American Forces Press Service
CAMP MABRY, Texas, Sept. 26, 2005 As Hurricane Rita gained strength in the Gulf of Mexico, 3,600 Texas National Guard soldiers and airmen were mobilizing and readying to assist Texans in the aftermath of the storm. By Sept. 20, four days before the storm made landfall, guardsmen were already in place along Interstate 35 and moving into the storm as it neared the Texas coast.
Army Maj. Gen. Charles Rodriguez, the Texas national Guard adjutant general, visits a soldier preparing to move into a storm-ravaged area in southeastern Texas. Photo by Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
A slice of that 3,600-person force, about 1,500 airmen and soldiers, was reassigned from duties in New Orleans. They were refitted with fresh gear and supplies and redeployed to a forward staging area near Beaumont, Texas.
Texas Guard security forces were the first to arrive at the Superdome in New Orleans and start to restore order to the city following Hurricane Katrina, Army Maj. Gen. Charles G. Rodriguez, adjutant general of the Texas National Guard, said.
"We drove in with Texas flags flying on our Humvees, and we were cheered," Rodriguez said. Now, Rodriguez and his troops are cheered as they drive into and fly over the many cities along the Louisiana-Texas border, which was hardest hit by Hurricane Rita Sept. 24 when it came ashore with sustained winds of 120 mph.
"Fortunately, it's not so bad here. And as we recover, we can send resources where they're needed more," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez leads a force of about 16,000 Army National Guardsmen and 3,000 Air National Guardsmen. They are working in the affected areas providing search and rescue, humanitarian relief, security, transportation, communications, medical assistance and debris removal.
According to officials at Texas Gov. Rick Perry's office, the National Guard has helped provide 167 water trucks containing nearly 8.5 million half-liter bottles of water, 60 ice trucks, and 17 refrigerated trucks are staging in Beaumont have been or are being dispatched to impacted areas. More than 500,000 gallons of fuel have been delivered to impacted areas since Sept. 22, including more than 25,000 gallons dispensed directly to over 5,000 stranded motorists, and 154 generators have been delivered to communities suffering power losses, with a priority given to hospitals and medical facilities.
"When it came time for the hurricane to hit, we were here," Rodriguez said. "We were poised, we were ready."
Rodriguez is clear to point out that the National Guard system is effective because they are an entity accustomed to working regularly with civilian authorities at all levels.
"It's a great relationship. It works. We rehearse and practice periodically together," Rodriguez said. "The Texas National Guard has decades of experience working with the governor's Division of Emergency Management. We take their 'taskers,' and we help them define their needs." And, Rodriguez said, "We know how to say 'Yes, sir' to a county mayor or judge."
The Texas National Guard's philosophy on disaster response is based on one premise: speed.
"You have to be there early, and you have to be there with enough," Rodriguez said. "You have to be there right at the edge of the problem, get in there, get in there strong."
Rodriguez is already looking at ways even good execution can be improved.
"We can always do better," Rodriguez said. "We can always refine it."
No larger evacuation effort has ever been accomplished, Texas officials said. Texas safely evacuated approximately 2.7 million people in 36 hours. By comparison, the Berlin Airlift evacuated 177,000 people and officials evacuated 200,000 and 135,000 respectively following the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear disasters.
But he said, one thing remains true, "The Army has a role, the Air Force has a role, but the Guard has a lead in this."