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82nd Airborne Division Becomes 'Waterborne' in New Orleans

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 21, 2005 – The Army's 82nd Airborne Division took to the water soon after it deployed to New Orleans to provide disaster relief assistance in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the unit's two-star general said here Sept. 20.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division conduct a search-and-rescue operation in a Zodiac boat Sept. 9 in Lake View, Louisiana, just northwest of downtown New Orleans. Photo by Sgt. Michael J. Carden, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Elements of the 82nd Airborne Division arrived in New Orleans Sept. 3. They handed off their duties in the city to National Guardsmen earlier this week and are preparing to redeploy home to Fort Bragg, N.C.

About 80 percent of the Crescent City was flooded after levees broke Aug. 30. That became a challenge for the paratroopers when they arrived Sept. 3. The division had just four boats at the time, Army Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the 82nd's commanding general, noted. However, the division quickly "started getting Coast Guard, Navy and Marine assets placed under our control," Caldwell said.

"We eventually became the 82nd 'Waterborne' Division," the general said, "and that really was our forte" during search-and-rescue and security missions in flooded sections of the city.

The division also acquired nearly 80 boats, said Command Sgt. Maj. Wolf Amacker, the division's senior enlisted man.

About 170 of the division's combat engineers were temporarily based on the Navy vessel USS Tortuga, berthed at Naval Support Activity New Orleans, planning and performing urban-search-and-rescue missions daily with other agencies using some of those boats.

Task Force Katrina Commander Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore also charged the paratroopers to straighten out the evacuation situations at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, the New Orleans Convention Center and the Superdome, Caldwell said. In all, 3,600 of the division's paratroopers were deployed to New Orleans to participate in Task Force All-American.

Caldwell said the airport manager had just three staffers, and many of the 24 other agencies involved in disaster relief efforts in New Orleans were similarly short-staffed. The answer, the general noted, was to assign the division's staff organizations and equipment to the agencies that needed them.

The unit worked in tandem with state, local and other federal authorities to feed, process and transport evacuees to other accommodations. The division's soldiers have helped evacuate 6,000 New Orleans residents, Caldwell said.

As of Sept. 18, 82nd Division medical personnel had treated 1,352 people and given 2,047 immunizations, according to unit documents.

As of Sept. 19, 82nd Division military engineers had cleared 185 city blocks of debris, cleared 113 streets, and removed 218 trees, according to unit documents.

The division's paratroopers are trained to be flexible, Amacker said. They excel in combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and also perform well during humanitarian missions.

The soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division are expected "to have a high degree of mental agility and flexibility," Amacker said. "That's something we pride ourselves on a great deal," he added.

Caldwell said his division achieves success because "we really empower our junior leaders."

The division's soldiers are treated "with tremendous respect and dignity" and are held to extremely high standards, the general said.

Professionalism and discipline permeate the organization, so the division's soldiers strive to succeed at everything they do, Caldwell said.

Caldwell said his soldiers often tell him they're proud to help the stricken people of New Orleans. "They feel very honored they can help other Americans," the general said.

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