September 6, 2005 – Spc. Nicki Fellenzer
New Orleans looked like a ghost town. Downed power lines, fallen trees and various debris from what once was a vibrant, busy city littered the pavements. As our convoy turned corner after corner en route to our destination, Sgt. Brad Staggs and I couldn’t help but notice the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina just a few short days ago. We pointed various destroyed buildings to one another – homes that once belonged to New Orleans residents. We took in ruined shops and gas stations. We photographed the deserted streets.
We began our trip four days ago when we met with the 229th Military Police Company from Virginia Beach, Virginia and the 192nd Security Forces Squadron after being called to active duty by the Virginia Army National Guard in support of relief efforts in Louisiana. After stopping in Staunton Friday, September 2, we convoyed to Tennessee, drove through Mississippi and eventually wound up here in Louisiana.
Our mission is to tell the Virginia National Guard story, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. In order to tell the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s story effectively, we needed to get to know the Soldiers and Airmen on a personal level, and that is what we have been doing. We have spoken to men and women from all walks of life. Some are students. Some are police officers in their civilian lives. Some are married, and many have left their families behind on short notice to answer the call for help from their fellow Americans.
The military police aren’t the only service members here. Security forces from the Air National Guard have also joined the 229th in support of relief efforts. Water purification teams and engineers are also here. And every last Soldier and Airman with whom we spoke was thinking only one thing: “I want to help.”
They are emotionally prepared for the devastation they are about to witness. Many of them have seen death and destruction in their civilian jobs, and a number of them have already been deployed to the Middle East. However, I think this could be different. These are their fellow Americans, desperate for help, crying out for relief, homeless, hungry and, many times, alone. This is nature’s devastation on a mass scale. There is no enemy to fight. There are only desperate Americans in need of help.
And their cry for help has been heard.
The military facility at Belle Chasse is full of National Guard units from all over the nation. Humvees, large trucks and tents litter the airfield. There’s almost no room to move. Our convoy made its home on a deserted air strip, and we’re sleeping in our vehicles tonight. We’re all exhausted after three full days of driving, but even with the lack of “amenities,” we don’t see much anger or resentment about our current situation. They are here to provide security, restore order and help the citizens of Louisiana regain a sense of normalcy in their lives. The Virginia National Guard is ready for action, and they will see it in the morning.