Military Leaders Describe Recovery Mission
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 3, 2005 The relief effort under way along the Gulf Coast will probably be remembered as "the greatest disaster recovery effort in our nation's history," the deputy commander for U.S. Northern Command told Pentagon reporters today.
Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Inge, speaking via satellite from the command's headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., outlined details of the enormous effort under way to save lives, restore order and begin the long process of recovery and rebuilding.
The immediate rescue effort remains a primary concern, he said. "Even though we have reached thousands of Americans stranded on rooftops or trapped on islands or on solid footing, we continue to scour the countryside and communities for those who might yet remain," he said.
The effort will continue "until we are confident that every person in dire straits has been located," Inge said.
Meanwhile, food, water, medical supplies and support personnel are flowing into the area in what Inge called "a heroic effort by any standard of measure" that he said will continue as long as necessary.
Military responders are part of a team, working side by side with local, state and federal partners to provide support, he said. Together, they've delivered millions of Meals, Ready to Eat, tons of water and huge amounts of medical and logistical support.
At the same time, these troops are helping establish a safe and secure environment for people affected by the disaster. Inge said 7,000 additional active-duty forces to arrive in the afflicted region soon "will make a difference" in creating that environment.
That force will include some 2,500 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division, about 2,700 from the 1st Cavalry Division and about 2,000 Marines from the 1st and 2nd Marine Expeditionary Forces, Inge said.
However, the general stressed that the incoming troops will not be serving in a law-enforcement role. Rather, they will provide security and be available to relieve National Guard forces who are conducting law enforcement.
Federal law prohibits active forces from carrying out law enforcement missions in the United States, but National Guard troops operating under their state governors' authority are not legally restricted from that role, defense officials explained.
Inge emphasized that the troops being dedicated to disaster response are in no way degrading the effectiveness of the effort in Iraq.
Army Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the Guard Bureau, has repeatedly emphasized that no U.S. state has more than 50 percent of its National Guard forces deployed at any one time, to ensure that state governors are never left short of resources in the event of a disaster such as the one the Gulf Coast is facing.
Earlier today, Blum told Pentagon reporters the National Guard is steadily boosting its forces deployed to Louisiana and Mississippi, many of them to support local law enforcement officials.
By the end of the weekend, 30,000 Army and Air Guard troops are expected to be on duty in the region.
The National Guard support is critically needed because two-thirds of New Orleans' police force is out of commission because they've lost their homes or can't get to their offices, Blum said. Others, he said, simply find the city too dangerous to work in.
Blum reported that the situation on the ground is improving, but noted that plenty of work remains to be done to help those victimized by Hurricane Katrina.