Guard Military Police, Infantrymen Keep Street Order
By Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
American Forces Press Service
LONG BEACH, Miss., Sept. 10, 2005 Tennessee Army National Guard Spc. Geoffrey Taylor stands on a street corner here armed with a rifle and equipped with tactical communications and a Humvee nearby. It's apparent he's not from this Gulf Coast community, yet he seems to know everyone and everyone seems to know him.
Tennessee Army National Guard military policemen Sgt. Kerry Parker, left, and Spec. Geoffrey Taylor man their entry-control point in Long Beach, Miss. Photo by Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"They're good," he tells a fellow soldier about an electrical truck that pulls up to their entry-control point Sept. 9. Taylor waves at the utility workers and they smile and return the gesture as they drive through the checkpoint. The two are posted, like thousands of other National Guardsmen, at the borders of severely destructed neighborhoods in the Katrina-damaged three-state area of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
National Guard soldiers have a presence on the streets of Mississippi. They are here to deter looting, keep sightseers from disrupting recovery and repair work, keep vehicular traffic flowing safely and to provide an "extra set of eyes and ears" for civilian law enforcement, Guard officials said.
Taylor controls access to a severely damaged neighborhood. Nearby are areas declared biohazard zones, where only recovery personnel are allowed. Dead victims and animal carcasses have not been recovered beneath miles of rubble here where state emergency-operations officials confirmed 156 dead. Many here are missing.
"The stench is unreal," Taylor said. "It looks like a battle zone back there," the military policeman said, adding sadly, "I've never seen anything like it."
Along a stretch of roadway here, every block has two National Guard soldiers standing at a corner, inspecting identification and talking with the locals. Most of the soldiers are from the Tennessee National Guard's 267th Military Police Company, a slice of an entire battalion mobilized for hurricane relief operations.
Taylor said that the MPs are providing security for the most-devastated areas, and work with local law enforcement to keep order. They have also performed relief missions, handing out water and food to victims.
"We're going on roving patrol with the police starting tonight," Taylor said. An infantry unit is coming to relieve them so military police can proactively patrol the streets.
"Whenever you have a disaster like this, you're going to have a small percentage of looters who want to do wrong," Taylor said, a police officer in Mt. Pleasant, Tenn. "It just makes me sick."
The streets in these neighborhoods are like mazes. Debris is everywhere, power line poles tilt 45 degrees over the roads, trees and houses are in the middle of the street, and trees 30 to 40 feet tall have watermarks near their tops.
"Before we arrived, things were a bit out of hand," Tennessee Guard Sgt. Kerry Parker said. "But things have settled down a bit now."
Parker, who served as a prison guard in Iraq, said that Guard posts are manned 24 hours per day, everyday. Residents here routinely offer them food and water as they stand their posts, he noted, despite the fact the residents have lost everything.
"You can't ask for better people than the ones who are here," Parker said.
About 15 miles west of Long Beach is Waveland, where Florida National Guard soldiers watch one of their soldiers control traffic at a busy intersection where U.S. Highway 90 and State Road 603 intersect.
"Our platoon has this traffic-control point right here," 2nd Lt. Maurice Toller said. "It's been crazy the last few days," he joked, but now that the soldiers erected larger stop signs, things have "gotten better."
The Florida soldiers from the 3 Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, are performing similar duties here like their Tennessee counterparts up the road. Protecting lives and property is the main mission.
"They're glad we're here," Toller said. "They welcomed us."
Toller said the Florida soldiers are manning entry-control points, traffic-control points and distribution sites. They are also providing fixed-site security.
This is Toller's second hurricane relief operation. Toller, from the northern coastal Florida city of Jacksonville, says that he will likely never live along the seaboard now that he has served here along the southwest coast of Mississippi.
"I didn't know it could be this bad," Toller said. Across the street from where Toller and his men are located sits a shopping center where just days ago officials found five bodies atop a roof of a department store, Toller said. He just shakes his head.
"We waited a few days to come back," Ron Dupree said as he and his family visited a relief distribution point in a Bay St. Louis shopping center. "Me and my wife wanted things to be safe - they are now," Dupree said nodding toward nearby guardsmen.
Later, nearby on a street crowded with vehicles washed away by the storm surge, a couple hurriedly tries to connect a trailer to their truck. The trailer has a riding lawnmower on it.
A National Guardsman walks over to the couple, they calmly exchange words, and then the pair drove away without the trailer.
It wasn't theirs.