Guard Chief Describes Katrina Response Operations
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 4, 2005 The chief of the National Guard Bureau declared the National Guard's role in Hurricane Katrina response operations "a great success story," Sept. 3, after returning from the Gulf Coast to see citizen-soldiers and -airmen at work, providing almost three-quarters of the military's uniformed response.
Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, joined President George Bush and Michael Chertoff, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, during a Sept. 2 tour of the recovery mission in the New Orleans region ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. National Guard forces from across the country were pouring in to support the mission. Photo by U.S. Army Master Sgt. Bob Haskell, National Guard Bureau
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Blum said he witnessed "dramatic changes in the last 36 hours" and said he was amazed to watch the wide range of National Guard support taking place simultaneously - from Texas National Guard UH-60 helicopters dropping 7,500-pound sand bags to plug a football-field-sized gap in the flood wall in New Orleans, to Guardsmen rescuing hundreds of people from attics and roof tops and taking them to safety.
"Saving lives," Blum said of their efforts.
The general made his assessment during what National Guard Bureau officials are calling the largest and most comprehensive National Guard response to a natural disaster in recent history. Previously, the largest had been for 1989 California Lomo Prieta earthquake, during which 32,000 California Guardsmen were mobilized, officials said today.
Almost 27,000 National Guard members are providing security, assisting with food and water distribution, and conducting search-and-rescue missions in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, National Guard officials said.
That number is expected to rise to nearly 40,000 over the coming days, representing the Guard forces of 40 U.S. states. The Air National Guard flew 721 sorties in the past few days, evacuating over 11,000 people to safety and delivering 3,600 tons of life-saving supplies and equipment into the devastated area, National Guard Bureau officials reported.
In addition, National Guard helicopters have evacuated more than 2,000 sick and injured people out of the New Orleans area as of today and are flying 300 missions a day along the Mississippi coast delivering critical supplies.
Guard troops also have delivered almost 1,600 truckloads of water and more than 1,000 truckloads of ice and distributed it to citizens throughout the afflicted four-state region, and Guard helped put in place massive sand bags to secure a levee breech in Louisiana, officials said.
Specialized engineering personnel were determining large generator requirements and assessments for fuel pumping lines and New Orleans dewatering pump system.
In New Orleans, National Guardsmen moved 20,000 people out Superdome in a safe and orderly fashion and secured the convention center, providing sufficient food and water for all individuals.
Speaking to Pentagon reporters Sept. 3, Blum graphically described the operation in which more than 1,000 National Guard military police "stormed" the convention center Sept. 2 to thwart a looming potentially dangerous situation. Tourists and local residents as well as street thugs and gang members were shared limited space in the center.
Blum said the Guardsmen encountered "absolutely no opposition," and "complete cooperation" as they executed their plan "with great military precision." Not a shot was fired during the effort, and no Guard soldiers were injured, he reported.
Had the Guardsmen gone in with less force, they may have been challenged and innocent people may have been caught in a fight between the Guard military police and those who didn't want to be processed or apprehended, the general said.
"As soon as we could mass the appropriate force, which we flew in from all over the states at the rate of 1,400 a day, they were immediately moved off the tail gates of C-130 aircraft flown by the Air National Guard, moved right to the scene, briefed, rehearsed and then they went in and took this convention center down," he said. Blum said "undesirables" were segregated from the people the Guard wanted to provide water, shelter and food. "Those people were processed to make sure they had no weapons, no illicit dugs, no alcohol, no contraband, and then they were escorted back into the building," he said. "Now there's a controlled safe and secure environment and a shelter and a haven as they await movement out of that center for onward integration to their normal lives."
While commending progress so far, Blum acknowledged that "a great task lies ahead of us."
Army and Air National Guardsmen are conducting security work, supporting civilian law enforcement, and providing food, water, medicine, shelter, transportation, vital communications and other emergency support functions in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he said.