BATON ROUGE, La. — Since Aug. 12, the Soldiers and Airmen of the Louisiana National Guard have been working tirelessly, around the clock. Guardsmen have conducted evacuations, search and rescue, and engineering missions, and even provided security at several shelters.
To date, more than 3,820 guardsmen have assisted with emergency flood operations and have rescued more than 19,040 citizens and 2,660 pets. They have distributed more than 78,000 meals, 460 tarps, 439,000 bottled waters and 961,000 sandbags and provided more than 2,200 cots and 1,700 blankets for shelter support.
Although troops may be wet and dirty and tired, morale remains high.
“It brings me back to when Hurricane Katrina passed in 2005, and I saw the National Guard around all the neighborhoods. That’s what persuaded me to join,” said Sgt. Bryan Campo of the 2225th Multi-Role Bridge Company out of Marrero, Louisiana.
“I signed up to protect my state and country, and it’s rewarding to see the impact and the sense of hope we give the community. This is one of my proudest moments.”
At one point, troops of Campo’s unit were spread among three cities: Livingston, Ponchatoula and Independence. Using their powerful bridge erection boats, they navigated floodwaters that were too deep for high-water vehicles and currents that were too strong for other boats.
Susan Black, wife of Sgt. Kevin Black of the 843rd Engineer Company out of Franklinton, Louisiana, admitted that she has been worried for her husband, a high-water vehicle driver who operated in the Denham Springs area during the emergency operation.
“When the cell towers were down, I couldn’t call or text him, and it made me very nervous,” she said. “I’m incredibly proud of him, though. I’m proud of the entire Louisiana National Guard for helping the community and the state. This is what they do.”
Though floodwaters in hard hit areas are receding, the Louisiana National Guard isn’t slowing down. Search and rescue missions have continued for a week, and now guardsmen are readying for further rescue efforts that may be needed if more flooding is caused by water moving south.
“We are agile, forward postured and prepared to flex in any direction … for any mission,” said Col. Cindy Haygood, commander of the 225th Engineer Brigade.
Soldiers and Airmen have also been working at shelters, where they have been assisting local government agencies and law enforcement with security and support, easing the load on other dedicated volunteers and emergency personnel.
Guardsmen in the 139th Military Police Company out of New Orleans and the 239th MP Company out of Carville are providing security at shelters at the River Center in Baton Rouge and the Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales.
Capt. Dan Gaskins, executive officer of the 773rd MP Battalion, said their main focus now is to help direct evacuees as they come into shelters and ensure that families know they are in a safe environment during their stay.
“These Soldiers volunteer to do this,” said Gaskins. “Many of the guys in our units are also affected, and it resonates with me that they would take time from their own personal lives and sacrifice that time to assist those in need.”
Spc. Amanda Rishton received the call the night of August 12, and she quickly reported to the Gillis W. Long Center in Carville. Now posted in a gym at the expo center, where she is surrounded by piles of clothing, shoes, diapers, cases of water and other essentials, Rishton admitted the 12-hour shifts can be grueling.
But she believes it’s time well spent.
“It’s rewarding knowing that I can be here,” she said. “Doing what I need to do … making [the evacuees] feel comfortable and protected feels really good.”