Katrina Rescues: A Military Perspective

I’m posting a letter from Joe Roche, whose wife is doing helicopter rescue missions in hurricane-affected areas, “24/7, very tired, sometimes being shot at, facing intense heat and humidity, having spartan-to-bare sleeping conditions, with sickness and disease spreading.”


I want you to know that over the past days, our soldiers of the National Guard have quickly and readily made big sacrifices so they can get down to the Hurricane Katrina rescue mission. My wife, as you know, is with National Guard. I watched last week as they worked feverishly, being called in from their other jobs and away from their families, to get everything ready to go.

Tens of thousands of National Guard soldiers have mobilized all over the country like this. I know you have felt grief over the disaster and the issue some people have made of it. I want you to take heart and lift your spirits at what has happened with our military.

There is now a MASSIVE military response under way. It is moving very fast, in fact. So fast that it quickly and frequently overwhelmed the capacity to put it all in place and get it launched.

I understand the frustration, fear and sadness being felt, but it takes time to get such a thing going. Remember that it took many months for our military operations to get under way overseas when the decisions were made to do so. In fact, I think there was some controversy about that in both of the wars over Iraq, when it took from August to January to launch Operation Desert Storm, and even longer to get Operation Iraqi Freedom going. I well remember even having to assure people that we were going to respond after September 11th when some started worrying that weeks had passed and nothing had happened.

I believe that such comparisons actually will show that the military response to Hurricane Katrina’s destruction is going at breath-taking fast speed.

Lt. Gen. Russell Honore, the commanding General of the Army National Guard, said that the thing to realize is that the rescuers who were there on the first day were also victims of the storm.

It takes time to organize the massive operation now under way. I watched my wife and her unit prepare to go, and I felt worried that they would become victims too if they didn’t properly prepare. The vital thing the soldiers have to make sure of is that they are the solution to the problem, and not part of the problem. Therefore, what has happened is that a vast, truly amazing and powerfully inspiration-driven massive team of professionals has quickly and effectively set up a huge series of staging areas from which rescue operations can begin.

It is a fact that with the destruction of the storm, there were very few open and secure areas in which to set up huge military operations. Well, defying all the challenges, your National Guard soldiers have done that brilliantly!

Now we are seeing this massive military response making it’s impact. Tens of thousands have been rescued, moving entire refugee populations hundreds of miles. I don’t believe others ever have been able to do this, such as the Europeans in the Balkans. No, such massive population moves are normally the work of war and crime that last years. This time, bigger and faster than most in history, your National Guard has moved in, set up, and begun one of the largest rescue operations in history.

The thing that has affected me most, however, are the soldiers doing this. I have seen police officers, Vietnam Veterans, and other professionals from all sorts of jobs, dropping everything last week and getting airborne to get down there. And Amy, it is scary too.

My wife is my best friend and the best person I have ever met. Now she is doing helicopter rescue missions, 24/7, very tired, sometimes being shot at, facing intense heat and humidity, having spartan-to-bare sleeping conditions, with sickness and disease spreading. There are thousands of rescue operations to do, and there are dozens of air units and even more ground units working hard and sometimes bumping into each other. It is more dangerous than I think people realize.

Yet, amazingly and very inspiringly, I watched as these National Guard soldiers cancelled plans for college, jobs, their kids’ plans for next week, basically everything that you can imagine, and instead jumped eagerly and with great determination to get ready and deploy to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Some of them are veterans, soldiers who have served for years in many of our wars and missions, civilian professionals who have jobs and lives and families, and all of them have set everything aside to go. Many are taking big financial hits, and their families have to make big adjustments. But you know what? They are all highly motivated and eager to get down there and do their jobs.

I know that for the victims of this storm, their suffering and tragedy is terrible and cannot be erased. I do hope we all realize, though, that the military is making a massively huge effort to rescue and help them that also involves National Guard soldiers making countless personal sacrifices.

We should have found inspiration from the determination of the people of New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to survive the long series of nightmares they have endured as a result of the hurricane. I also believe that we should now find inspiration in our great military, primarily the Army National Guard, for how they have jumped full steam ahead into this.

Be proud of your soldiers, keep your spirits and hopes high. There are some very sad and gruesome days and weeks ahead for our nation as we learn of the full scope of the disaster. Face it with the resolve, focus and determination that our military is showing us now, and we’ll get through this to make a more safe future for such events and rebuild what has been lost.



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