More Active, Guard Troops Join Katrina Response
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Troops from the 82nd Airborne Division, 1st Cavalry Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force will join the relief effort within the next 24 to 72 hours, Bush announced in the Rose Garden today after touring the disaster area Sept. 2.
"Hour by hour, the situation on the ground is improving. Yet the enormity of the task requires more resources and more troops," the president said.
Within the next 24 hours, National Guard Bureau officials expect to have 30,000 Army and Air Guard troops and their equipment from more than 40 states in the region to help with relief and rescue operations. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco said the military presence is having a calming effect on New Orleans. Television images showed crowds cheering Sept. 2 as National Guard convoys loaded with relief supplies sloshed through city. "We are seeing a show of force," Blanco told television reporters on the scene. "It's putting confidence back in our hearts and in the minds of our people." The president promised today to finish evacuating people from the area as quickly and safely as possible, to ensure that criminals don't prey on those left vulnerable and not to "allow bureaucracy get in the way of saving lives."
He praised Congress for passing a $10.5 billion emergency aid package, which Bush quickly signed, to fund ongoing relief operations.
Military support for the effort, being coordinated through Joint Task Force Katrina at Camp Shelby, Miss., remains focused on saving lives, delivering food, water and other support and evacuating people from the area.
Search-and-rescue efforts intensified today with the arrival of additional military aviation assets to the region. As of this morning, 139 military helicopters-78 from active-component units and 61 from the National Guard-were supporting rescue and humanitarian operations, and another 17 aircraft were on the way, U.S. Northern Command officials reported. This is in addition to a massive Coast Guard aviation response.
Evacuations continued in flood-choked New Orleans, where NORTHCOM officials reported today almost 25,000 people have been evacuated. U.S. Transportation Command was continuing to fly 10,000 people out of the city to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, officials said. Among the evacuees were patients at the New Orleans VA Medical Center.
The Air National Guard flew 721 sorties in the past few days, evacuating over 11,000 people to safety and delivering 3,600 tons of life-saving supplies and equipment into the devastated area, National Guard Bureau officials reported.
More than 100 Air Force pilots, pararescuemen, combat controllers, medical and support personnel from Air Force Special Operations Command were helping remove the injured, ill and stranded from New Orleans, Air Force officials said. In New Orleans, National Guardsmen moved 20,000 people out Superdome in a safe and orderly fashion and secured the convention center, providing sufficient food and water for all individuals, National Guard Bureau officials said. Helicopters from USS Bataan, from Naval Station Ingleside, Texas, are flying search-and-rescue and medevac missions in Louisiana and Mississippi, and High Speed Vessel Swift is off the Louisiana coast, providing support.
Engineering teams are working to reopen the airfield at Naval Air Station Belle Chase to provide a second runway for passenger and cargo operations, officials said.
The Air Force is providing strategic humanitarian airlift assistance to the region by airlifting tons of relief materials and military support personnel and equipment into several affected areas, Air Force officials reported. This includes more than 9 million Meals, Ready to Eat from the Defense Logistics Agency. Aircraft being used to fly these missions include the C-5 Galaxy, C-17 Globemaster III, C-141 Starlifter and the C-130 Hercules, which are being operated by active and reserve-component forces from bases in Washington, California, Massachusetts, Ohio, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, New Jersey, Mississippi, New York, West Virginia, and as far away as Puerto Rico, officials said. In addition, more than 500 combat engineers, communication specialists, medical personnel and helicopter crews have deployed to the hurricane-struck region from Air Combat Command bases, Air Force officials said. Air Force Space Command was deploying aircrews and support personnel from four of its bases to Columbus Air Force Base, Miss., today, to provide additional help, command officials reported. The airmen are being drawn from wings at F.E. Warren, Air Force Base, Wyo.; Minot Air Force Base, N.D.; Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont.; and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Soldiers from Fort Gordon, Ga., were also in the area, providing desperately needed communications support to the Federal Emergency Management Agency Joint Task Force Katrina, Army officials reported. The communications support includes both secure and non-secure voice and data communications and video teleconferencing.
Troops from the 1st Cavalry Division and 4th Infantry Division based out of Fort Hood, Texas, have joined Joint Task Force Katrina, and helicopters crews from the post's 1st Air Cavalry Brigade are the lead air element of the task force, Army officials reported.
In addition, some 400 workers from the Army Corps of Engineers were focused on draining New Oreleans and repairing gaps in its levee system. At the same time, Corps of Engineers planners are looking at plans to create a city of temporary housing for as many as 50,000 displaced people, Army Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, the chief of engineers, told Pentagon reporters Sept. 2.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Human Services was working with the Defense Department today to establish 10 mobile Federal Medical Shelter facilities, each able to accommodate 250 patients, along the Gulf Coast. Two facilities will be positioned at Naval Air Station Meridian, Miss.; two at Air National Guard Station Meridian, Miss.; two at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and one at Fort Polk, La., NORTHCOM officials reported.
The Air Force's Medical Rapid Response Force is operating at New Orleans International Airport, where it is establishing a 25-bed hospital with emergency medical and surgical capabilities. A mental health team and dental team also deployed to New Orleans, Air Force officials said.
Airmen from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., are setting up two 250-person hospitals, with than 200 medical staffers, and a 1,000-person refugee camp in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. Officials said the tent city will include showers, food and electricity for patients' families and refugees.
A 60-member Contingency aeromedical staging facility team from Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, arrived in the afflicted area Sept. 2 to provide support and medical care for patients being evacuated. Officials said the team will set up a 24-hour tent facility to care for patients until they can be moved to a larger medical center.
Patients getting airlifted from the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport are now being transported to Kelly Field at Lackland Air Force Base, where a hub has been established to support the aeromedical evacuation portion of Hurricane Katrina relief operations. As patients are brought to the medical hub at Kelly Field, they are processed for further transport to one of the 31 nearby hospitals or trauma centers, officials there said.
The USNS Comfort, a hospital ship, set sail Sept. 2 from Baltimore and is scheduled to arrive in the Gulf Coast Sept. 8, NORTHCOM officials reported.
Other military installations are actively supporting hurricane response operations.
Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.; Naval Air Station Meridian, Miss.; Barksdale Air Force Base, La.; Alexandria, La.; and Fort. Polk, La.; are serving as federal operational staging areas to expedite the movement of relief supplies and emergency personnel to affected areas.
Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., which received heavy damage itself during Hurricane Katrina, has also been designated as an operational staging areas. "Red Horse" engineers from Hurlburt Field, Fla., put Keesler's runway back into operation so it could support recovery operations, then began evaluating other facilities at the post before they could be used to house displaced servicemembers and their families.
The former England Air Force Base, La., is serving as an intermediate staging base for National Guard personnel arriving from other states to support the Louisiana relief efforts.
Several Navy vessels, including the carrier USS Harry S. Truman and dock landing ship USS Whidbey Island, are en route to the region to support FEMA. Truman will serve as the command center and afloat staging base, and will carry additional helicopters from Naval Air Station Mayport, Fla., to support search and rescue efforts, officials said. Whidbey Island will bring with it the capability to employ a movable causeway to the region.
The Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group is sailing from Norfolk, Va., loaded with disaster response equipment and is expected to be operating off the Louisiana coast beginning Sept. 4, officials said.
As military members and their assets supported the response effort, additional assets were being put in place to support the responders.
Airmen from Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., are deploying five transportable tent city sets to house military and civilian personnel at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.; Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.; and Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, Air Combat Command officials reported. Each set includes billeting, kitchen, water purification, shower and latrine facilities for more than 500 people each.
In addition, support operations ranging from maintenance stations to fuel points are being set up to keep relief efforts going. USNS Arctic is also in the region, providing fuel and stores for naval support efforts.
Those involved in the military response expressed gratification in their mission.
"The people of New Orleans are very happy to see us," said Lt. Col. John Gay, deputy commander of Joint Task Force Arkansas, which includes 600 Arkansas National Guard troops supporting the effort. "The destruction is devastating, but our morale is high and we're dedicated to our mission and to helping these people to the best of our ability."
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