Since Sept. 1, the Missouri National Guard has deployed about 2,000 troops to New Orleans and surrounding areas to help with the recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Earlier this week, Adjutant General King Sidwell and the deputy director of the Missouri Department of Public Safety, Brian Jamison, traveled to New Orleans for two days. They offered an update on the troops’ work during a news conference in Jefferson City Wednesday morning.
“We view this as an opportunity to evaluate what has happened there, what our response could and should be in case of a natural disaster or any other catastrophic event,” Jamison said. “We just want to make sure we’re the most prepared as we can be.”
Missouri initially deployed about 1,300 troops between Sept. 1 and Sept. 3. An additional 900 guardsmen were deployed Sept. 6. As of Wednesday, however, members of the Guard who are in college were returning home, bringing the total back down to about 2,000.
Many of the troops have been staying in airports or schools and eating one hot meal a day.
Sidwell said Guard members have been accompanying local law enforcement on mobile patrols, serving as convoy escorts and guarding stationary posts. They’re also searching homes and noting the numbers of bodies inside them. Civil authorities are dispatched to remove the bodies later.
Sidwell shared several photos of the troops at work.
“What you can’t do with these photographs is you can’t smell it,” Sidwell said. “The odors that are in the area add another dimension to it.”
Sidwell said the stressful nature of the work prompted him to deploy extra medical units and chaplains to counsel the troops.
“Many of my soldiers who have previously deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan were shocked at what they saw in New Orleans because there’s such wide devastation,” Sidwell said.
Meanwhile, New Orleans is slowly and sporadically recovering.
“There are different degrees of control and restoration of order,” Sidwell said. Some areas have perfect cellular phone reception, for example, while others lack access to even a land line.
Sidwell said he expects to bring his forces back at the 30-day mark. At that point, he said, private contractors will take over with reconstruction efforts.