National Guard Major Helps to Rescue Members of Own Family
By Army Maj. David W. May
Special to American Forces Press Service
LAKE CHARLES, La., Sep. 15, 2008 While more than 7,000 Louisiana National Guardsmen were activated to assist in hurricane recovery operations in Louisiana, an officer with the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team had the great satisfaction of taking part in the rescue of one of his own family members.
As the storm surge from Hurricane Ike, the second major hurricane to batter the Gulf Coast in less than two weeks, made its way along the coast, Army Maj. Bryant R. Billiot, chief intelligence officer and a native of Dulac, La., received a call from his worried sister.
“She told me that our cousin, Jessica Billiot, was franticly trying to get to her children, who were staying at their uncle’s house while she was at work,” Bryant said. “When she returned that evening, the waters had covered roads, and local authorities would no longer let anyone into the area.”
After pleading with them to let her through, Jessica finally gave up when an uncle assured her they would be fine inside his house, which was on seven-foot stilts.
The next morning, she once again tried to reach her sons, but found they had moved to another house on higher ground.
Jessica then became frantic after finding out her eldest son, Starlin, had suffered a back injury. Normally, this may not have been serious, but Starlin has hemophilia and could bleed indefinitely when injured, Bryant explained. In addition, the medicine he uses to control the condition was at the first house, and the wind and rain made it impossible to return.
“That made it a dire situation,” Bryant said. It was then that his sister called, although they had been staying in touch through text messages.
Bryant said he already knew that units were operating in the area and set about to contact them. “I had been tracking them since Day One,” he said. Even though they were not his unit, he said, he believed he could trust them as if they were his own unit.
Bryant explained the situation to the Guardsmen, who immediately contacted the Emergency Operations Center in Terrebonne Parish. The mission was then given to Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Agent Thomas DeWitt.
DeWitt told Bryant that a boat would be sent immediately to get Starlin and his younger brother, Holden. Bryant gave DeWitt the address, and searchers set off to find the boys. But when they got to the address, no one was left in the house.
Bryant called his sister and found Starlin’s father had picked him up in a small boat a few minutes earlier and was taking him to meet his mother. But the boat was so small that Holden had been left behind, and his mother was desperate to get him away from the area.
At this point, communications were lost with the family, but Bryant said he had grown up in the area and had a good idea where they might be.
“I gave Agent DeWitt the address of another family member a few doors down,” he said. “They called me back a few minutes later and said, ‘We got him.’ It made me feel really good.”
"It was a logistical nightmare driving the boats down the streets and in yards that have never been underwater,” DeWitt said. “You are always running into things you can't see and dodging mailboxes. When we can work together with the National Guard to make a rescue, it's a beautiful thing.”
The story didn’t end there; Holden refused to leave without getting his brother’s medicine from the first house, and he convinced the agents to take him there first. After retrieving the medicine, he was returned to his mother and brother, now at Terrebonne General Medical Center nearby.
Bryant said that at last report Starlin was doing fine, that everyone had been reunited, and that personally he felt very good to have had a small part in the rescues’ outcome. “Makes me feel good that I have this uniform on,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
There was one other thing, though. “If I wouldn’t have helped in the rescue, my family would never have let me live it down,” he said with a laugh.
(Army Maj. David W. May serves in the Louisiana National Guard Public Affairs Office.)