Army Paratroopers Keep Watch Over New Orleans Neighborhood
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 19, 2005 Two Army Humvees chugged their way into another ravaged section of Algiers, an old New Orleans neighborhood set just across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter.
New Orleans resident Alexcener Reaux, 74, thanks Army Staff Sgt. Samuel H. Zoker, a 29-year-old 82nd Airborne Division paratrooper, from Trenton, N.J., outside her home in Algiers, an old neighborhood in New Orleans Sept. 17. Zoker's unit, Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, has been conducting neighborhood patrols through Algiers since Sept. 15. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
It was early evening Sept. 17, but the 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers had been up since first light. A few blocks back the squad of soldiers, from Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, searched a battered multistoried apartment complex for anyone who'd survived Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
Army Sgt. Maaka K. Tuionetoa, a 25-year-old from the Tonga Islands in the Pacific Ocean, led a group of troopers on a door-to-door search of the faded-brick complex. The soldiers' repeated knocking seemed an unwelcome visitor amid the unnatural stillness.
"It's kind of eerie," Tuionetoa said. "You hope to find someone" who needs help. The sergeant added that he didn't know if the soldiers would find any residents at the seemingly deserted complex. They found no one.
Half an hour later and a few blocks farther down on Murl Street, the soldiers met Willie Patterson, a New Orleans Housing Authority employee. The soldiers' neighborhood patrols "have been a great help to us" in keeping down looting and other crime, Patterson said.
The soldiers conduct neighborhood-watch-like patrols in Algiers to assist local authorities to find out "how people are doing" after the storm, explained Army Capt. Kenton R. Barber, Battery A's 28-year-old executive officer.
The captain noted that he and his soldiers don't have authority to conduct law-enforcement missions. Barber's soldiers carry live ammunition for their M-4 carbines, but the weapons aren't loaded, he said.
Barber, who hails from Petoskey, Mich., said his soldiers also check to see if power and other utilities are being restored and help distribute food, ice and other items to the Algiers community.
Alexcener Reaux, a 74-year-old townhouse resident on Murl Street who stayed on through the storm, said she's glad the soldiers are around. "I feel safer; I go to bed and sleep good," she said.
A helicopter came to evacuate her after the storm, but Reaux said she refused to leave because the aircraft scared her. Two days later, Reaux's daughter arrived to take care of her.
Pfc. Oliver D. Butler, 19, said he helps distribute food, water and other items during the day to Algiers residents at a local mission.
"It's a catastrophe that's happened in this area," Butler said. Helping Algiers residents get back on their feet "makes me feel good inside," he said.
Home based at Fort Bragg, N.C., the paratroopers' temporary New Orleans headquarters is at the Naval Support Activity New Orleans, a reserve Navy and Marine base in Algiers. They've been conducting humanitarian missions here since Sept. 15, Maj. Kelly W. Ivanoff, the 2nd Battalion's executive officer, said, helping the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
The paratroopers arrived in Louisiana on Sept. 3. They first helped to support evacuation operations at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, Ivanoff said, and also assisted security forces and search-and-rescue teams in water-covered areas of the city. About 3,600 paratroopers are deployed in the New Orleans area as part of Task Force All American.
"Now the city is beginning to come back to life, and they're assisting in that transition period," Ivanoff noted.
Other members of TF All American in New Orleans include: 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, from Fort Hood, Texas; 1st Aviation Brigade, from Fort Rucker, Ala.; 13th Corps Support Command, from Fort Hood; and a support hospital. TF All American has just over 6,300 soldiers.
The 82nd's continuing assistance to New Orleans residents following Katrina is "history being made," Barber said.
"These are Americans that need our help," he said.