Mississippi Guard Provides Relief to State's Citizens
By Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
American Forces Press Service
GULFPORT, Miss., Sept. 8, 2005 Above the Mississippi Air National Guard's Combat Readiness Training Center, various types of military aircraft are carefully navigating the busy skies.
An Army National Guardsman loads a truck with rations and hygiene products headed to the Mississippi Delta. Photo by Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk and UH-1 Huey helicopters, and C-130 Hercules, C-17 Globemaster III aircraft are either taking off fully loaded with humanitarian relief supplies or coming back after delivering a load of relief aid somewhere along the Mississippi coast.
On the ground, military personnel from all services work steadily in the heat, unloading humanitarian supplies from cargo aircraft and then reloading them into helicopters or trucks that distribute ice, water, military rations and baby supplies. The airfield resembles an ant mound; no one seems to stand still for more than a minute.
The day before Hurricane Katrina came ashore in Mississippi on Aug. 29, the Mississippi National Guard had already been planning for the likelihood of a disaster.
"During hurricane season our operations personnel are constantly monitoring storms in the Atlantic," Mississippi Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Tim Powell said. "The Friday before the storm hit, we were tracking the storm."
Two days before the storm hit, the Mississippi soldiers knew the storm's path would take it through the state's coastal communities and officials began alerting units, primarily military police and engineers, Powell said.
Officials initially activated 750 people, and the Guard also activated its emergency operations center in Jackson, Miss. Members of the forward EOC, a team that moves into a disaster area and coordinates operations with other agencies, were also notified and reported for duty by noon the day before the storm landed.
Less than a day after the storm slammed into the coast, military police and engineers from the Mississippi Army National Guard were moved to the state's three coastal counties.
"The military police were there to provide support to local law enforcement, and the engineers were used for search-and-recovery mission support and evacuation support," Powell said.
As the Mississippi Guard assessed the damage, other states began to call them. Powell said that Kentucky, Tennessee, Maryland, Delaware, Arkansas, California, Alabama, Missouri, Colorado, Ohio, New York, Georgia and several other states all volunteered their personnel and equipment. Many showed up as soon as Sept. 1.
"It makes it worth your paycheck when you're here," Air National Guard Master Sgt. Barry Tice, a C-130 mechanic with the 165th Airlift Wing, from Savannah, Ga., said. "I've worked a couple of hurricane-relief missions, and it's always touching to see the people."
"It was a tremendous outpouring of support from National Guards of other states," Powell said.
Early on, the Guard's mission in Mississippi was search and rescue, evacuation and debris removal. Military police provided presence patrols, and other soldiers distributed humanitarian relief. Today, the mission focuses on providing relief, security and clearing debris.
"The mere presence of a military police force creates a huge deterrence for those who would steal from innocent residents or businesses," Powell said.
Today, the airfield here, which was built to sustain 950 personnel, is deluged with more than 5,000 uniformed personnel working humanitarian-relief operations. Thousands more soldiers are at other base camps around the outlying areas.
"This is the largest disaster ever to affect the state of Mississippi," Maj. Gen. Harold A. Cross, Mississippi's adjutant general, said. "The men and women of the Guard have readily accepted the challenge and are successfully performing their missions in support of civil authorities and are helping save the lives of hundreds of Gulf Coast residents."
According to Mississippi Air National Guard officials, within the first 24 hours after the storm made landfall, a Mississippi Air National Guard C-17 cargo aircraft flew 90,000 pounds of food into the airfield. Within a day, those supplies had been exhausted, but six New York National Guard C-5 Galaxy aircraft then flew in 90,000 pounds of supplies each.
Military rations, water, ice, and hygiene and baby products are everywhere. Military personnel race to keep ice from melting in the hot southern sun, and aircrews scramble to load up with baby products, which are in high demand.
"This is ongoing," Powell said. "They're almost working around the clock. Everyone's doing a fantastic job."
Standing outside a food distribution point in Gulfport, hurricane survivor Lavaughn Carter smiled and encouraged her daughter to wave at soldiers as they drive by in convoy. Despite having "lost it all," she is in good spirits.
"We got a lot of help," Carter said. "The soldiers brought us water and that military food. We didn't have anything to eat, no water, nothing."
Currently the Mississippi National Guard has more than 3,200 soldiers deployed to Iraq and more than 300 in Afghanistan. Another 60 are in and around Kuwait. And other state units are preparing to depart for duty in the U.S. Central Command theater of operations. Seventeen Mississippi National Guard soldiers have been killed in the war on terror.
Despite the force commitments from the global war on terror, Powell said, the state has more than ample personnel to cover the disaster operations. National Guard Bureau officials said Mississippi had 60 percent of its Guard force available for storm response. Guard Bureau reports indicate that 14,600 Guard personnel are in Mississippi participating in relief operations.
Other states are in the state as "good neighbors" and are assisting under emergency compacts, Guard officials said.
"We were able to respond to this hurricane and begin our support missions as quickly as we always have," Powell said.
Powell said that the mobilized force of 4,000 Mississippi guardsmen are working closely with county civilian authorities, who identify the needs of the community and dispatch the Guard accordingly.
"I'm extremely proud of how our National Guard has responded to these hurricane-support efforts," Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said. "I've seen them in action on the coast, and they're doing everything possible to help protect lives and property throughout the state."
National Guard Bureau officials said there are more than 45,000 National Guard members saving lives, providing security, distributing food and water and contributing to recovery efforts in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.