L. Neil Smith's
Number 357, March 5, 2006

Hurricane Duty

Katrina and Rita: A Soldiers Story
by SPC Boyd W. Smith

Exclusive to TLE

On August 27th of this year I got the call, that though expected, nonetheless was dreaded. I was informed that I was to be activated, along with the rest of my Army National Guard unit, for hurricane duty.

Two days later along with the rest of the nation, I watched in horror as Katrina slammed into New Orleans as a category 4 hurricane. As those of us in the armory watched we saw a city die. With agonizing slowness.

For the next few days we waited for a mission. We were restricted to the armory for accountability purposes. 75 Guys, 3 toilets, 4 urinals and one shower. Not nice. We then got word that we were going to be split up into 2 platoons and mine was being assigned to provide security at a local shelter for special needs patients at a local college. I was made a squad leader and learned about how much the military stressed accountability. I learned that it was a major issue. With making sure you knew where your people were at all times topping the list. Followed by property assigned.

I spent the next few weeks supervising at any one time 4 - 7 young soldiers. I also arranged for billeting in the dorms, use of laundry, use of recreational facilities, use of Internet labs and for a cable connection in our operations center.

Those next several weeks were good ones. The work was easy, and the people were pleasant for the most part, some of who will have a lasting positive effect upon my life.

Then Rita happened. And we got word that our orders were extended to sometime in the next year. And eventually the worst news of all, that Rita was coming for us. My hometown was in the sights of a monster hurricane. That is a cold prickly that you feel all the way from the base of your skull to tip of your spine. You can't stop it. You can only watch as it closes in and threatens to wipe your life, and the lives of your family and friends off the map.

The Guard in a stunning lack of stupidity was among those who got out of the way. My unit evacuated to a little town called Crowley, LA. I'm sure that most people know the kind of place. Small town America. Good, solid, hardworking folks who know the value of pulling together in a crisis and when the chips are down don't have to wait for someone to tell them to help your neighbor. They know this bit of anarchist philosophy in their bones. And are taught it by their parents and they teach their children. They know that you help your neighbor when shit goes wrong, it is only right.

In the local Armory we waited out the storm. The news services kept us informed of the progress of the storm. Then we began to feel the effects of the storm, and even 50 miles away, we took damage and lost power for days. We went on generator power. We kept going.

At Crowley another unit of guardsmen from the middle of the state joined us. We survived together, with the help of music and beer. It was nice actually. We had fun and waited for a mission.

While there I had the opportunity to visit my family who had evacuated to Shreveport in the very northwest part of Louisiana. I stayed some nights with them, and reassured them, and went to a local festival. That also was fun.

I also had the chance to visit home and saw that Lake Charles looked like a war zone. At the time I thought that it could not get much worse than what I saw. I went to my house and the big oak tree that was in my front yard was down across my driveway, and crushed my truck, and it had knocked down my basketball goal, and knocked a hole in the roof of my pump house. It had also clipped the roof of my house. My cat survived and the fish was still alive. My sheds in the back yard were damaged as well as the lawn furniture set and a lot of the landscaping. My trampoline was trashed. So I gave more food and water to the cat, cleaned out the refrigerator (no power) and rescued the fish. Packed up some more clothing and went back to Shreveport.

After a week and a half, we got a mission. The combined element was going to provide security at a Red Cross money distribution point. While there I visited my brother who lives in a little town close to Baton Rouge. I also was given some pass time to visit home and to help out my family recover from the hurricane. The duty was easy, we walked around, had weapons (they were needed) and made sure that the crowd was orderly and that people were no longer robbed and mugged. After they would close the line for the day, we would have the evening off. We would sit around, drink beer and shoot the bull about the army, life, women, and the job we were doing. By the time it shut down, we had helped 500,000 people and saw over $3.5 million given out to assist people in their hurricane relief efforts. The Red Cross is the largest private relief organization in the world. There were volunteers from all over, even Canada. I made some very good friends there. Some of whom I still talk to.

Then it was on to Cameron, LA. Mother natures fury revealed. There I saw the true devastation of the hurricane. Whole neighborhoods reduced to slabs. Other neighborhoods were left looking as if a giant child had pushed all his broken toys to the end of the block. Driving through town, I noticed that every single structure had been damaged to some extent. Most completely and beyond repair.

I worked both day and night shift while there and honestly the night was better. You could not see as much of it when it was dark. The daylight showed where a town was broken and where people's lives had been strewn out over many square miles.

It paid well and it was the mission that the Guard is primarily for. But now I have had time to reflect, and wonder—with the Gulf of Mexico at record temperature for this time of year and us being in year 5 of a 40 year cycle peaking in 2020, does my future hold activations and disruptions in my life for the next 35 years? And will it be my home that will next be picked up and broken over the landscape? And will I handle it as well as I saw many of those that I helped.


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