Military Response to Katrina Intensifies
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 7, 2005 The 60,000 U.S. military forces on the ground in the hurricane-decimated Gulf Coast region are carrying out President Bush's priorities -- saving, then sustaining lives -- before getting to the tasks of recovery and reconstruction, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Sept. 6 during an interview on Fox News Channel.
Rumsfeld, who traveled to the region Sept. 4 to observe operations firsthand, addressed the "enormous effort going on down there" as 1,800 members of the 82nd Airborne Division and more than 1,600 1st Cavalry Division troops were joining the Hurricane Katrina relief operation.
This brings to 18,000 the number of active-duty forces committed to the mission, in addition to almost 43,000 National Guardsmen, U.S. Northern Command officials reported today.
An additional 5,400 active troops and 1,400 National Guard members are expected to flow into the region within the next 24 to 48 hours, DoD officials said.
Together, these forces are conducting humanitarian, search-and-rescue, evacuation and security missions, officials reported.
Rumsfeld said the Defense Department provided assets to support the effort "as rapidly as humanly possible" after being asked to do so and had taken steps to ensure it was prepared for a quick response.
"I would go so far as to say we were leaning so far forward that we were actually moving things and prepositioning things well before we were ever asked for them," he said.
In another new development, USS Tortuga was positioned pierside in New Orleans, where its crew is now conducting evacuations, distributing food and water, and transporting support troops, NORTHCOM officials said.
Tortuga is among 27 ships -- 20 Navy and seven Coast Guard -- now on station in the affected region. USS Whidbey Island delivered six floating bridges to replace those destroyed in New Orleans. In addition, USS Grapple is on station to support salvage and clearing operations in cooperation with the Coast Guard, DoD officials said.
The hospital ship USNS Comfort, capable of treating 250 patients, is scheduled to arrive Sept. 9, DoD homeland defense officials reported today.
In addition, 360 helicopters, half active duty and half National Guard; and 93 airplanes, 70 active duty and 23 National Guard, are also supporting the operation.
Joint Task Force Katrina (Forward), currently at Camp Shelby, Miss., is slated to relocate to the USS Iwo Jima within 24 hours, officials reported.
DoD officials reported these additional operational highlights today:
- DoD has provided extensive search-and-rescue, evacuation, and medical support, flying more than 5,200 sorties to date, evacuating 75,000 people, rescuing more than 14,000 people, evacuating 7,500 patients by ground and more than 2,500 by air, and treating more than 5,500 patients.
- The Army Corps of Engineers closed the 17th Street Canal levee breach in New Orleans and began pumping operations Sept. 6. Corps staffers are now working to open the city's pump station number seven.
- Mortuary affairs specialists are expected to arrive today at Camp Shelby to help the Federal Emergency Management Agency process the deceased.
- The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here is providing a specialized DNA team to help identify fatalities.
- An Army element arrived at Camp Shelby equipped with airborne and ground loud speakers to assist with evacuation operations.
- DoD provided 1,500 mobile radios and technical support to be used by officials in Mississippi and Louisiana.
- Six installations are providing support as transportation staging areas for ice, water and medical supplies. Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., is serving as DoD's central collection point for supplies donated by foreign countries.
- Military Sealift Command contracted for one passenger ship to provide lodging for disaster victims and response personnel.
- FEMA has ordered 21 million individually packaged military rations.
- Field hospitals are providing 745 beds: 360 aboard USS Bataan, 260 aboard USS Iwo Jima, and 25 at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.
- Ten Department of Health and Human Services Federal Medical Shelters, each with 250 beds, have been located at DoD installations. Two shelters are at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.; four at Fort Polk, La.; and four at Meridian Naval Air Station, Miss.
- The Air Force established one of three tent cities to be constructed at the airport in New Orleans.