Louisiana National Guard Brigade Ready to Join Recovery Efforts
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 9, 2005 After a year in Iraq, the 256th Brigade Combat Team of the Louisiana National Guard is coming back to the United States to join another fight -- the fight against the death and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina.
In a news briefing today from Baghdad, Iraq, Army Brig. Gen. John P. Basilica, 256th BCT commander, said his soldiers already have started the redeployment process and are prepared to join in recovery efforts along the Gulf Coast.
"We are very, very well trained and have performed recovery operations in the past," Basilica said. "We have a significant number of soldiers in the brigade that are ready to transition from this fight to that fight."
Not all soldiers in the brigade will participate in relief efforts, Basilica said. The soldiers will be able to choose whether to continue duty with the brigade or to return to their civilian lives, he said. An informal poll of the 2,500 soldiers in the unit showed that about 800 are interested in continuing their service, 1,500 want to return to civilian life, and 200 were undecided, he said.
Basilica stressed that the soldiers are not being pressed into service and there are no negative connotations for those choosing to go back to civilian life. For this deployment, many of the soldiers left small businesses or other jobs that have been struggling in their absence, he noted.
Just over 500 soldiers from the 256th were directly affected by the hurricane, Basilica said. These soldiers are being sent home first, and the Army and Defense Department are providing unprecedented levels of support for these and other soldiers affected, he said.
"The Army is going to take care of its own," he said. "We're going to get our arms around these soldiers and make sure they're taken care of, and then we will take care of the rest of the population that is suffering."
About 200 soldiers already are back in the U.S., and more are coming in by the hour, Basilica said. By the evening of Sept. 10, all the soldiers affected by the hurricane should be back, he said.
After the 500 affected soldiers, the next group sent to the United States will be those soldiers who are going to help in relief efforts, Basilica said. The 256th is a versatile force, and the unit's combat experience makes it a valuable asset to the recovery operations, he said.
"We believe that we provide a great deal of flexibility to the adjutant general and to the governor, and we'll be prepared to serve in whatever role that they feel we can best make a contribution," he said.
During its year in Iraq, the 256th was part of Task Force Baghdad. The Task Force was made up of mostly Louisiana National Guard soldiers, but was supplemented with soldiers from New York, Minnesota, Illinois, Washington and Wisconsin, Basilica said. The brigade worked in all parts of the task force's area of responsibility and was involved in combat operations, training Iraq security forces, providing essential services for Iraqis, and economic development and governance, he said.