October 10, 2005

Task Force Commonwealth hits the streets of the Big Easy

By Sgt. 1st Class Michael Hampton
Task Force Commonwealth Public Affairs


A member of Task Force Commonwealth works on clearing a fallen tree in the New Orleans suburb of Kenner. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michael Hampton, Task Force Commonwealth Public Affairs.)

NEW ORLEANS, La. -- Victims of Hurricane Katrina were pleasantly surprised when 40 members of Task Force Commonwealth entered their Jefferson Parrish neighborhood in the New Orleans, La. suburb of Kenner on Oct. 6, 2005. Soldiers of the 429th Forward Support Battalion, 1st Battalion, 246th  Field Artillery and 2nd Battalion, 116th Infantry canvassed the area looking for residents who needed assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Hundreds of residents recently returned to their homes to assess the damage and salvage what they could. Many of them found themselves helpless as huge trees and mounds of debris made it difficult for them to get a handle on what to do next; that is until Task Force Commonwealth came to town.

Wind and flood damage had ruined most everything inside and rendered most of the homes uninhabitable. Task Force members surveyed the area to determine the communities that had the greatest need. The elderly and disabled were given top priority. Next were those who had no one to assist them or could not afford to hire a clean-up crew.

Once the needs were assessed, Soldiers went to work removing mounds of debris, carrying out heavy appliances and furniture from damaged homes and cutting down trees that were uprooted, blocking access to the homes and in some cases, preventing the local power company from restoring electricity to the residence.


Members of Task Force Commonwealth remove damaged household goods in the New Orleans suburb of Kenner. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michael Hampton, Task Force Commonwealth Public Affairs.)

The Melbournes, an elderly couple well into their seventies, were very grateful as Soldiers removed several large appliances from their home and cut away a large tree that covered the rear of the house, making it impossible for the power company to restore power to it. “I don’t know what we would have done, the power company told us they could not fix our power line until the tree was removed,” Mrs. Melbourne said.

The couple is living on social security and could not afford to pay to have the tree cut down. This was just one of many situations Soldiers encountered as they went from house to house doing what they could do to help.

On one other occasion, an elderly woman who could not speak English sat in front of her home as if all was well. Soldiers stopped by to check on her; with the aid of a Spanish speaking neighbor, they found that the entire content of the woman’s home was ruined. She sat patiently waiting for a contracting crew to show up, but they never did. Task Force soldiers wasted no time in assisting her.


Members of Task Force Commonwealth remove damaged appliances from a house in the New Orleans suburb of Kenner. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michael Hampton, Task Force Commonwealth Public Affairs.)

Several medics as well as an Army Guard physician from the 429th Medical Company were on hand to render aid but spent most of their time carrying out debris and dragging huge tree limbs from residents’ yards. Master Sgt. Troy Nevells, non-commissioned officer in charge of the mission, was gratified and proud at what the Soldiers have accomplished thus far. “This is a great work that we are doing and I am just grateful and proud to witness the fruits of our labor,” Nevells said. “These Soldiers have worked very hard and are eager to help as many as they can.” 

The Mission came about as appeals from the communities reached the local Emergency Operations Center (EOC). With coordination of the Joint Operations Center in Belle Chase Naval Air Station, and the EOC, Task Force Commonwealth was tasked with the mission. To date, Task Force members assigned to this mission have assisted over 100 families, enabling them to get a handle on things as they attempt to make some sense of their lives as they now know it. 

The Task force, commanded by Col. Carl Smulligan, consists of Virginia Army and Air National Guard troops who left Virginia on Sept. 28, 2005 for various locations around the state of Louisiana. Once on the ground, the task force was divided into various teams with unique missions all geared toward helping those who were affected by Hurricane Katrina.

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