Military Support to Katrina Relief Continues to Grow
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 5, 2005 The thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines supporting relief efforts along the Gulf Coast "are doing a great job" as they focus on what the commander of Joint Task Force Katrina today called their top priority: rescuing and evacuating victims and providing them food and water.
The 38,000 National Guard troops and almost 13,000 active-component forces in the region are working feverishly to wrap up search-and-rescue operations and get the hurricane victims to safety, Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore said today during an interview with CNN.
As of Sept. 4, more than 63,000 people had been evacuated from New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, U.S. Northern Command officials said today.
"Right now, we're still in the crisis phase of this because we have not gotten people out of the destroyed area," Honore said. "We are still looking for them...and getting them."
Honore, based at the joint task force headquarters at Camp Shelby, Miss., but spending much of his 20-hour workdays in the afflicted area, said the current force, which is increasing in size daily as more Guard and active forces continue arriving in the region, appears to be large enough for the immediate mission.
"We still have local officials to get the job done, and if we need more troops, they will flow," he said.
What's not as clear at this point, Honore acknowledged, is how many troops will be required for the next phases of the operation, after the evacuation is complete.
Removing floodwaters from New Orleans, La., providing shelter for thousands of displaced residents and the long-term recovery efforts "might be harder" than the current search-and-rescue mission, Honore said.
Army Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said today during an interview with C-SPAN that Corps workers on the ground are working with local authorities to pump water from New Orleans, repair pumps knocked out of operation, bring in additional pumps and repair levees.
"Every hand is down there working," he said. "It's a challenge. It's a very complex thing and there are lots of variables."
Honore dismissed questions today about what's being criticized by some as a slow government response to the disaster.
"We might be at the half time of this game. We might be losing 50 to nothing," The general said. "But I am going to focus on this next half. We are going to win this half. We are going to get it done and we are going to get it done as quickly as we can...The second half is yet to come."
Just returned from a visit to the stricken area Sept. 3 with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Northern Command's top officer described the magnitude of the military support mission.
In addition to 38,000 Guard troops and 13,000 active-duty forces on the ground and more from Fort Bragg, N.C., Fort Hood Texas, Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Camp Pendleton, Calif., on the way, the military is performing a Herculean support effort, Navy Admiral Timothy J. Keating told Pentagon reporters today via satellite from Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.
"We have over 300 DoD helicopters performing search-and-rescue missions and providing humanitarian assistance," Keating said, and naval forces in the area now number 21 ships.
"The USS Harry S. Truman, an aircraft carrier, is in the waters just south of Mississippi. We've got an amphibious ship pierside in New Orleans. Another one, a big-deck amphib(ious vessel), the USS Iwo Jima, ... should be pierside downtown New Orleans by about noon today," Keating reported.
In addition, the Air Force, operating through U.S. Transportation Command, is providing critical airlift for equipment and humanitarian supplies.
"We have delivered by air and land 6.5 million meals to Louisiana so far (and) over 2 million to Mississippi," Keating said. "Another 3.5 million meals (are) in the pipeline flowing forward (and) 15 million gallons of water are coming. And we've got 116 million pounds of ice."
Keating said he's not sharing these numbers simply to tout the military's logistics capabilities. "I don't give them to you necessarily to impress how much we can move stuff," he told reporters. "I want you to understand how hard the Department of Defense is working to assist the National Guard, (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the Department of Homeland Security Secretary (Michael) Chertoff in providing the assistance to those folks who have been hit so hard in Louisiana and in Mississippi."
NORTHCOM officials also reported today that USS Bataan, which has been serving as a platform for search-and-recovery missions, is now ready to accept patients into its hospital.
USS Altrair arrived in New Orleans carrying 130 tons of water and USNS Pollux, with 1.5 million gallons of fuel to support relief operations by National Guard troops and emergency service workers, NORTHCOM officials said.
In addition, two military water purification units have been ordered to Pascagoula and Bay St. Louis, Miss., and DoD is working to fill more requests for high-water vehicles for police and soldiers on the ground, NORTHCOM officials said.
Additional active-duty troops continue to arrive in the region. More than 1,500 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division arrived in New Orleans from Fort Bragg, N.C., with another 1,000 to arrive today, officials said. About 1,600 1st Cavalry Division arrived in Hammond, La., from Fort Hood, Texas, late Sept. 4.
The National Guard presence in the region continues to grow. National Guard Bureau officials said today they expect 41,000 Army and Air Guard forces to be supporting relief efforts during the coming days. Collectively, they represent 42 states and make up 74 percent of the uniformed military response, officials said. Four thousand Coast Guard members are also providing support. Defense officials reported these additional operational highlights today:
· 374 DoD, Coast Guard, and National Guard helicopters and 76 DoD and National Guard fixed-wing aircraft are supporting the operation;
· 963 total search-and-rescue, evacuation and supply delivery missions have been flown by DoD, more than 500 of them during the past 24 hours. Collectively, they have moved more than 15,000 people and almost 5,000 tons of supplies in Mississippi and Louisiana; · 75,000 people have been evacuated from the disaster area as of Sept. 4;
· Air medical evacuation and search-and-rescue operations in New Orleans are now focused on the Algiers section of the city, where approximately 3,000 individuals need to be evacuated;
· Total DoD rescues, evacuations and patient treatments in New Orleans now total more than 8,000 patients transported, more than 2,000 people rescued and more than 5,000 patients treated;
· Maritime units supplied 78,000 gallons of fuel to hospitals, law enforcement, National Guard and other critical government services;
· Nearly one-fourth of the 21 million Meals Ready to Eat ordered by FEMA have been received;
· The Army Corps of Engineers is performing de-watering operations in New Orleans with pumps and controlled levee breeches;
· Two National Guard C-130 firefighting aircraft were diverted from wildland fire fighting in the Northwestern United States to Pensacola, Fla., to support New Orleans fire fighting operations;
· Seven helicopters also preparing to conduct fire fighting operations in New Orleans;
· The secretary of transportation is seeking DoD concurrence to use four Maritime Ready Reserve Fleet ships as temporary housing for relief workers;
· DoD is working to fill a FEMA request for communications support for the New Orleans Police Department;
· The military has provided 745 hospital beds at New Orleans International Airport, with additional beds available aboard USS Bataan and USS Iwo Jima and 500 more beds en route to New Orleans;
· The Air Force will provide an 85-bed mobile hospital unit and air logistics support at Alexandria Airport, La., currently a staging area for rescue operations;
· Ten 250-bed Federal Medical Shelters have been established at DoD installations: two at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla; four at Fort Polk, La.; and four at Meridian Naval Air Station, Miss.; and
· DoD medical personnel have treated more than 5,000 patients to date.