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Deployed Louisiana Guardsmen Ready to Support Katrina

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 7, 2005 – Members of the Louisiana National Guard's 256th Brigade Combat Team are preparing to turn their attention to hurricane-relief operations when they return from their deployment in Iraq, their commander said.

The vast majority of the brigade's soldiers are anxious and ready to help the citizens affected by Hurricane Katrina, Army Brig. Gen. John Basilica Jr. said in Baghdad, Iraq. "The people of Louisiana have been worrying about us these past 12 months. Now we are worried about them," he said.

"Many soldiers, but not all, will have the opportunity to continue to serve their country while on active duty and assisting with Joint Task Force Hurricane Katrina," Basilica said.

Efforts are under way to speed up the troops' return to Louisiana, he said. The brigade is days away from completing its mission in the Baghdad area and will be available to return as quickly as transportation becomes available.

Meanwhile, U.S. Central Command Air Forces officials announced Sept. 3 that more than 300 active-duty and reserve airmen assigned to Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., will cut their deployments to the region short in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The airmen will return from their deployments so they can attend to their families' needs and help the heavily damaged base recovery from the hurricane, officials said Sept. 3.

In addition, nearly 100 airmen scheduled to deploy to Southwest Asia from Keesler will remain behind to recover from the storm, according to a news release. Other airmen from bases not affected by the disaster will assume their positions in support of the war on terror, officials announced.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld emphasized during a Sept. 6 Pentagon news conference that the U.S. military is fully capable of continuing to fight the war on terror while responding to Hurricane Katrina relief operations.

"On that point, let me be clear," the secretary said. "We have the forces, the capabilities and the intention to fully prosecute the global war on terror while responding to this unprecedented humanitarian crisis here at home. We can and will do both."

Those who think otherwise need to remember that "more than 300,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen who are not deployed overseas ... are available for relief and security efforts in the United States, should they be necessary," Rumsfeld said.

"Whoever's raising that question about the fact that because we are involved in Iraq or Afghanistan or doing whatever else we're doing, that we don't have the capability (to support Hurricane Katrina), ... just doesn't really understand the situation," Rumsfeld reiterated during a Sept. 6 interview on Fox News Channel.

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