Mississippi Guardsman Counters 'Too Slow' Criticism
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
GULFPORT, Miss., Sep. 12, 2005 Some Mississippi National Guardsmen are getting a bit annoyed at the criticism that their response to Hurricane Katrina was too slow.
Sgt. Bryan C. Deem, left, of the Pass Christian, Miss., police department, consults with Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Hewitt of Natchez, Miss., at the Mobile Command Post of the city. Deem lost everything he owned in Hurricane Katrina, as well as the police station where he worked. Hewitt, a member of the 114th Military Police Company with headquarters in Clinton, has been on state active duty since a day before the storm made landfall Aug. 29. Photo by 2nd Lt. Murray B. Shugars, Mississippi National Guard
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"I don't see how we could have moved any faster," said 1st Sgt. Brett Dupre, the first sergeant of the Guard's 114th Military Police Company out of Clinton.
Guard authorities alerted the company early. During a hurricane, emergency responders do not rush up to the expected point of landfall, Dupre explained. Rather, they gather in areas farther back from the coast and wait for the storm to pass. Then they go to the areas.
The state alerted the MPs early, and two days before the storm hit they were deployed to Camp Shelby - Mississippi's National Guard training area. In good weather and traffic, the camp is about an hour away from the Gulf Coast.
Other MPs helped man county emergency operations centers in Biloxi, Gulfport, Pass Christian and Bay St. Louis - they were at ground zero for Katrina.
Katrina hit the coast on Aug. 29. It pushed inland and followed Mississippi Route 49 north. Katrina hit Camp Shelby at about 3 p.m. "By (5.p.m.), we felt the storm had passed enough to head out," Dupre said. That wasn't the case, though. The tail end of the storm was still moving through the area as the MPs left their camp.
With the 113th MP Company in the lead, the column moved toward Gulfport and the Trent Lott Combat Readiness Training Center. "We chainsawed our way to the coast," the first sergeant said. A journey that normally took less than an hour to make stretched to five hours as guardsmen cut trees that blocked their way. They also had to dodge downed power lines, storm-tossed debris and flooded areas. Other Mississippi Guard units followed in their wake.
They also were moving into a vacuum. The county EOCs were off the air. Katrina wiped out communications, and in Bay St. Louis, actually forced the evacuation of the emergency operations center. The MPs did not know what they would confront when they arrived.
The MPs arrived in Gulfport to confront a lake. "The runway was under water," Dupre said. "It was dark, but we still began patrolling almost immediately." The MPs established communications and began reconnaissance of the affected areas. They contacted their opposite numbers from the Alabama and Louisiana Guards and fanned out over the region, he added.
Five hours after the most devastating storm to ever hit Mississippi, the MPs were beginning to provide security for the affected region, and that's why the criticism of "too late" rankles the first sergeant. "People join the Guard because they want to help their fellow citizens," he said. "Some of our troops lost everything they own in the storm, too, but first they are helping the people of the Gulf Coast before they look after themselves."
The Mississippi MPs have been patrolling almost continuously since arriving on the day of Katrina. MPs and guardsmen from around the country have joined them.