September 12, 2005
By Spc. Nicki Fellenzer
LAKE CHARLES, La. -- What do you do if you are an emergency room or an Intensive Care Unit nurse, and you must get to New Orleans, La., to help the victims of a devastating hurricane, but have no way of getting there?
You ask the Virginia National Guard for a ride.
That’s exactly what happened to three nurses from California who had to get to New Orleans as quickly as possible. But instead of despairing or giving up, the women requested assistance from the 229th Military Police Company.
Stacey Stevens, Paige Larrabee and Monica Rockerfeller were in a bind. The three nurses were sent by the California Nurses Association to help relieve some of the strain on medical staff in New Orleans hospitals, who had been working around the clock treating victims and saving lives, but unfortunately they were stranded in Lake Charles, La. with no prospect of getting a rental car or a flight to New Orleans.
John Pickles, a coordinator with the California Nurses Association, who came along to ensure the nurses got to their destination, said transportation was a big problem. “There’s a waiting list for rental cars in Lake Charles of more than 50 people, according to one car rental company," he said. "We couldn’t do this without you.”
By “without you,” Pickles means the 229th MP Company, whose leadership immediately stepped up to the plate and offered to drive the nurses to New Orleans.
“I feel I’m actually going to do something that’s going to be worthwhile,” says Spc. Phillip McElveen, one of the MPs whose job it is to drive the women to New Orleans. “They’re going to help a lot of people.”
Pvt. Ian McAllister, another Soldier tasked with getting the nurses safely to their destination is excited he was picked to go on this mission. “It feels good to know what you’re going to do when you wake up,” he says.
According to Stacey Stevens, she and her fellow nurses were lucky to find the 229th MP Company when they did. “We called about every rental car agency in town. No cars available. No flights to New Orleans either. I saw some National Guard troops, and I said, ‘listen we’re ICU nurses and we have no way to get to the people who need us. Can you help us?’ And they’ve immediately stepped up to the plate and said ‘we’ll get you there.’”
Much like the members of the Virginia National Guard, Stevens, Larrabee and Rockerfeller received very little notice that they were deploying to Louisiana. The nurses got little more than 12 hours’ notice that they were needed, but they did what they had to do to help, and for the next five days, they will be providing the necessary support to overworked medical staff in New Orleans.
“We’re going to work in a critical care unit in a hospital that needs ICU nurses,” says Stevens, “and we really don’t know what we’re going to see when we get there.”
“Everyone we’ve talked to who has been there says it’s much worse than what you see on television. But we’re there to do a job, and we’re going to do the best we can. We don’t know what to expect, but whatever it is, we’ll be ready for it,” she adds.
“We’re going to be going there relieving the medical staff so they can be with their families,” says Larrabee. “There are patients who are too critical to move. We’re expecting full beds and a lot of hard work.”
As the coordinator for the California Nurses Association, Pickles is thankful that the Virginia National Guard will be taking care of his associates. “One of your Sergeants said if they can’t get the nurses to the hospital, they’ll get them back here,” he explains. “It is immensely reassuring to me and to their families that they’re going to be safe and in your hands.”
Two 229th MP Company vehicles carrying the nurses and their gear left Lake Charles the morning of Sept. 10, and the nurses are extremely grateful for the lift. “I feel absolutely privileged to be riding in this car,” says Larrabee. “We’re honored and we feel safe.”
Spc. Fellenzer is assigned to the 29th Infantry Division Public Affairs Office and is deployed with Task Force Cardinal.