Mississippi Guardsmen in Need Still Help Others
By Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
American Forces Press Service
GULFPORT, Miss., Sept. 8, 2005 Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 William Tisdale, of the Mississippi Army National Guard, was sitting in a chair waiting for his helicopter to be repaired. He wants to fly.
A National Guardsman looks at the remnants of a bridge along the Mississippi coast. Photo by Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Days earlier his unit had flown the governor and adjutant general of Mississippi over the state to assess Hurricane Katrina's damage. In his 38 years behind the stick of many of the Army's airframes, Tisdale's flights over his homeland are now his most memorable -- more so than his combat flights as a Huey pilot in Vietnam.
Tisdale said people throughout the storm-damaged region get a limited perspective of the destruction from their neighborhoods, but from a pilot's point of view, the scene is grander.
"When you get up there and the damage goes for 70 miles, ... " Tisdale said, his voice trailing off. His eyes welled with tears. The war-hardened veteran flyer could not finish his sentence.
"I live here. Everything's just wiped out," Tisdale said minutes later.
Guard officials here said many of the Mississippi National Guard airmen and soldiers supporting relief and recovery missions are themselves victims of the storm. Many volunteered to help rebuild their state hours after the storm passed despite their own devastating losses.
Though none in his family was hurt, Tisdale's family lost two homes: his parents' home and his mother-in-law's house. "Flattened," was all he said.
When Hurricane Camille hit this region in 1969, Tisdale was flying helicopters at treetop level in Vietnam. But he said many who lived through Camille have told him Katrina was far worse.
"You hope you never have to do this type of stuff as a guardsman," Tisdale said. But, he added, "It's what you're here for."
Mississippi Air National Guard Lt. Col. Lance Hester, also a pilot, worked doggedly to get supplies moved to storm victims. He coordinates much of the air movement of humanitarian supplies heading into and along Mississippi's ravaged coastal areas.
Hester is homeless now after his house near the coast was destroyed. He evacuated his family to New Jersey, where they are staying with family.
"I consider myself lucky," Hester said. "I've lost everything, but I still have a job. I get to help."
"Many of the people here helping need help themselves," Hester said, his voice cracking with emotion. "This is Mississippians helping Mississippians."
Mississippi Army National Guard Col. James Young, commander of the 1108th Aviation Classification Repair Activity Depot, said the Guard has placed many affected families in temporary lodging and billeting facilities throughout the state. Others have evacuated, and some are staying in hotels or with family. The depot is a hub of military aviation activity and relief missions here in Gulfport.
National Guard officials say family support groups are in full swing helping families cope with the devastation.
"Most of my people lived here; a lot of them are homeless," Young said.
"I've got a lot of pilots and crew chiefs flying and mechanics repairing aircraft," Young said. He said many Mississippi Guard personnel no longer have jobs, homes or cars, and that their Guard duty allows soldiers and airmen to think about something other than their personal tragedies.
"We give them a bridge to normalcy," Young said. "You can only spend so many hours a day reorganizing your life. They need to feel like they're contributing to things."
Mississippi Guard members, with the help of their Guard brethren from other states, have moved roughly 630,000 pounds of relief goods into the affected areas, Air National Guard officials said.
"Some of these people were pulling themselves and their neighbors out of the rubble and the bay last week," Young said. "Now, they're here."