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Rumsfeld, Myers Visit Gulf to Assess Military Hurricane Relief Effort

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 4, 2005 – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in the Gulf Coast area today to get briefed up on military support for hurricane relief efforts and see ongoing relief operations firsthand. Rumsfeld and Myers were slated to meet with Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, commander of Joint Task Force Katrina, then to visit the afflicted region.

Michael Chertoff, secretary of Homeland Security, told reporters with him in the region today the area remains in "an urgent crisis situation" and that the most critical mission remains focused on saving lives and relieving pain and suffering. Thousands of additional troops continued to surge into the battered Gulf region today to support hurricane relief operations, with more than 15,000 active-duty troops to be on station by Sept. 5, in addition to more than 35,000 National Guard members already in place, U.S. Northern Command officials reported today.

The National Guard presence will increase to 41,000 over the coming days, according to National Guard Bureau officials. In addition, more than 8,000 active-duty servicemembers are on duty in the area, and the number is expected to climb to more than 11,000 within the next 24 hours and more than 15,000 within 48 hours, U.S. Northern Command officials said.

Lead elements of the 82nd Airborne Division moved from North Carolina to Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, with some 300 troops and their equipment on the scene. About 2,500 additional troops are expected to arrive today.

In addition, an estimated 1,600 members of the 1st Cavalry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team are traveling by bus from Fort Hood, Texas, to Hammond, La., to support relief operations there. Fort Hood officials said the "Black Jack Brigade" will assist with food distribution and transportation for displaced people.

III Corps is also supporting the operation with more than 30 UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters, and 300 soldiers from the 13th Corps Support Command are preparing to deploy to the region. This Logistics Task Force will provide a variety of capabilities, including preventative medicine, water purification, bulk fuel, debris clearing, supply and issue of needed materials and movement control for ground transportation moving in the area, III Corps officials reported.

Marines from the 1st and 2nd Marine Expeditionary Forces are expected to begin moving to the Gulf Coast today, NORTHCOM officials said.

Meanwhile, nearly 1,500 Marines from two infantry battalions--one based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and the other at Camp Pendleton, Calif. - are preparing to move into the region, Marine Corps officials confirmed. The Lejeune unit, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, could begin arriving as early as today, officials said.

They will join some 225 North Carolina-based Marines already the region. Another 300 more Marines are steaming southward aboard two naval vessels launched earlier this week from Norfolk, Va., and expected to reach the area within the next few days, officials said.

The naval presence in the area continued to increase, with 21 ships --18 Navy and six Coast Guard-- now in the affected area and five additional ships en route. Among them are USS Harry Truman, a carrier, and USNS Comfort, a hospital ship, officials reported. About 190 Department of Defense helicopters also are participating in humanitarian operations along the Gulf Coast, officials said.

This is in addition to extensive Coast Guard assets in the region. More than 2,200 Coast Guard members and assets from all over the country are conducting post-hurricane response operations, with more arriving daily, Coast Guard officials reported. Twenty-nine Coast Guard cutters, 52 aircraft, and numerous aids-to-navigation and incident-management teams are in the Gulf area. In addition, officials said the Coast Guard has recalled 550 reservists to active duty to support the effort.

Coast Guardsmen conducting air operations rescued 1,245 people and flew 385 sorties Sept. 2, bringing the total number of lives saved by boat and air to more than 9,500 people since Hurricane Katrina struck Aug. 29, officials said.

Air Force members conducted almost 500 rescues Sept. 3, for a total of more than 1,350 to date, Air Force officials reported. In addition, air crews have flown almost 800 sorties, transported more than 13,000 passengers, delivered more than 4,000 tons of cargo and conducted almost 1,900 aero medical evacuations to date, officials said.

In addition, an OC-135B observation aircraft based out of Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, continues to fly over the affected area, capturing essential aerial imagery for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Air Force officials said the images are being used to find communication lines, assess the status of roads and evacuation routes from the area, and identify suitable helicopter landing sites for search-and-rescue operations.

Also, in the past three days, four Marine Corps UH-1N Huey utility helicopters have plucked more than 450 people from rooftops, highway islands and other hard-to-reach high ground where residents have taken refuge from the massive flooding unleashed by the storm, Marine Corps officials reported.

Military Sealift Command has contracted with cruise ships to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency's request to relocate evacuees from the Gulf Coast. One ship, to arrive in Galveston, Texas, Sept. 5, can carry more than 2,600 passengers, officials said. Another ship, to arrive in Mobile, Ala., Sept. 8, can carry more than 1,800 passengers.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Human Services is transporting 10 mobile Federal Medical Shelter facilities, each able to accommodate 250 patients, on military installations along coast region. According to NORTHCOM officials, four facilities will be positioned at Fort Polk, La.; two at Naval Air Station Meridian, Miss.; two at Air National Guard Station Meridian, Miss.; and two at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

NORTHCOM and other military officials also reported several new developments today in addition to ongoing support operations:

* Two C-130 aircraft from North Carolina are now operating out of Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., supporting airborne firefighting efforts;

* 5th Army is helping receive and relocate evacuees in Texas;

* 60,000 Meals, Ready to Eat arrived in Gulfport, Miss., for distribution to displaced residents;

* A contingent of USS Bataan medical staff deployed to the New Orleans Convention Center to provide medical support; and

* Hundreds of truckloads of ice and water will arrive to different locations in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama over the next 48 hours.

Additional information about extensive military support for the operation is posted on the DoD Web site.

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