September 20, 2005
By Sgt. Brad Staggs and Spc. Nicki Fellenzer
NEW ORLEANS, La. -- After Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, a number of states sent several thousand National Guard Soldiers to assist with the relief and security efforts. But while crime, looting and stranded citizens became a continued problem that needed National Guard assistance, one of the more serious effects of the hurricane, was also the lack of clean water.
This is just the kind of emergency that the Virginia Air National Guard’s 203rd Red Horse Squadron has trained for.
The six-man unit deployed at the beginning of September as part of Joint Task Force Cardinal, a team of National Guard Units from Virginia which includes the 203rd, the 229th Military Police Company, the 192nd Security Forces Squadron and several support units. The Red Horse has a singular mission: to provide clean water Soldiers and, in many cases, civilians need.
“Our day-to-day activity is to purify water from the Mississippi River using a process called reverse-osmosis.” Explained Staff Sgt. Antonio Arnold, a member of the 203rd Red Horse Squadron. “We’re basically taking the bad things in the water [out] and making pure water.”
The 203rd traveled with a water purifier which is capable of processing 600 gallons of water per hour, but while working at Belle Chasse, Louisiana, they met up with the 219th Quartermaster Company from Puerto Rico – a team that has a purifier capable of processing over 6000 gallons of water per hour. The two elements got together and are now acting as one unit to provide clean water for the National Guard units stationed in New Orleans.
“Everybody here is working together great.” Says Lt. Col. Paul Julian, Commander of the 203rd. “We have the 219th Quartermaster from Puerto Rico, the 222nd Quartermaster… everybody’s working together.”
Command Sgt. Major Clifton C. White of the 29th Infantry Division from Fort Belvoir, Va., came to the Orleans Parish to check on his troops and make sure they knew the importance of the job they were doing.
“The troops’ morale is terrific,” White said. “They know that they’re doing something for American citizens. A lot of these troops are young and they haven’t had an opportunity to do any emergency service work like this.
“They all have a great sense of pride in what they’re doing. We ride up and down the streets in the Humvees going from location to location and citizens who still remain in the Parishes are smiling and waving and handing you bottles of water as you ride by. That’s a great feeling for these Soldiers to know that they’re doing something that helps American citizens and they’re very excited to be here.”
Julian agrees. “[The troops are] outstanding. Being an Air Force guy, I don’t understand all the Army terminology, but everybody in the Army’s just loving these guys. They make a phone call ‘I need water,’ they’re just Johnny-on-the-Spot.”
Warrant Officer Christopher Perdue of A Company, 429th Forward Support Battalion (FSB) was sent to New Orleans to take care of the pumps and take charge of the storage and distribution of clean water. He is impressed with the National Guard’s ability to work as a team and get the job done. “Morale is outstanding and their ability to work is phenomenal,” he said.
Perdue has had the chance to see the devastation in New Orleans for himself. “It is a disaster out there. It tore up a whole lot of buildings. There’s no water, no electricity…” he said.
The Soldiers and Airmen of the combined task force have also had the opportunity to see the damage in downtown New Orleans first hand. Spc. Katherine Koontz of the 222nd Quartermaster Detachment, a fifth-grade teacher from Winchester, Va., counts her blessings each time she sees what has happened. “It makes me glad that I have a bed to go back to,” Koontz says. “It does look like things are getting better out there. One day, the water was up real high and a few days later there was just mud. It’s not a pretty site.”
On the whole, the Soldiers, Airmen and their leaders are happy to help their fellow Americans and have worked seamlessly as a team. “I’m excited about what we’re doing and the bottom line is helping the people here,” Arnold said. “I’ve seen a lot of damage and devastation, and that’s why we’re here. To help the people recover.”