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U.S. troops on Gulf Coast to number nearly 30,000
Scripps Howard News Service


September 01, 2005

The ranks of U.S. troops engaged in rescue, relief and security duty in hurricane-wrecked Gulf states will soon near 30,000, bolstered by pledges of aid from National Guard outfits from every state except Hawaii.

That total - which amounts to more than half the 58,000 Guard and Reserve troops now at war in Iraq - is just the personnel part of a far-flung Pentagon effort to mobilize a comprehensive array of equipment and technology to help the overwhelmed victims and local officials in southern Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

They'll treat and transport the sick and injured, hand out water, ice and food, rescue the stranded, supply generators, set up communications, provide traffic and crowd control, and combat looting, according to Lt. Gen. H. Stephen Blum, commander of the National Guard Bureau. The Army Corps of Engineers is in charge of plugging the holes in New Orleans' levees.

Although stretched by combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pentagon leaders said the military is fully prepared to take on the potentially long-term task in what is certain to be the largest mobilization of forces after a natural disaster.

"There's nothing that I'm in want of," Blum said.

Coordinated in Louisiana by what has been dubbed "Joint Task Force-Katrina," the U.S. military contribution so far includes:

- Swift-water rescue teams sent from California as well as medical airlift specialists to help fly thousands of patients from hospitals and nursing homes, and a flotilla of inflatable boats.

- Five-ton trucks able to ride through deep water are on their way, and the USS Grapple, which can survey underwater damage and perform salvage missions, is standing by. The Navy's HSV-Swift, a catamaran capable of navigating shallow water, arrived from the Naval Station Ingleside in Corpus Christi, Texas, which last week was targeted for closing by a national commission.

- In all, more than 50 military helicopters and at least a dozen massive C-5, C-17 and C-130 transport planes are in motion, ferrying supplies, people and other materiel. More will be dispatched as needed, Pentagon officials said.

- Air Force Special Operations Command personnel have been sent to open a runway at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, and then use portable radios to function as air-traffic controllers for the relief flights heading to and from the region. The elite branch of the service also is supplying rescue personnel, emergency medical technicians, 19 Pave Hawk rescue helicopters and C-130s capable of refueling helicopters.

- Three-thousand foot soldiers from Fort Bragg, N.C., are waiting to be deployed for security patrols and other civil-control duties in largely lawless New Orleans.

- The Navy's USS Whidbey Island, which can install a movable causeway to replace a damaged bridge or over-water roadway, has set sail from Norfolk, Va. It also can help move heavy equipment such as bulldozers ashore in areas not accessible by land.

- The USS Harry S Truman aircraft carrier prepared to leave Thursday to serve as a command center and floating staging base in the Gulf of Mexico. The carrier, which will arrive next week, will also bring additional helicopters for search-and-rescue missions.

- The USNS Comfort - a floating, fully equipped hospital ship with 12 operating rooms and up to 1,000 rooms - is expected to arrive next Thursday from its Baltimore home port. The USS Bataan amphibious assault ship is already in the area, where its Knight Hawk and Sea Hawk choppers have rescued scores of stranded people.

- The Naval Facilities Engineering Command has deployed teams of Seabee structural and mechanical engineers, architects, roofing specialists and construction contract experts from its units in Port Hueneme, Calif., Great Lakes, Ill., Charleston, S.C., and elsewhere.

- A U-2 spy plane from Beale Air Force Base in California has been ordered to take high-resolution images of the devastated areas, which federal emergency personnel will use to guide their work.


Contact Lisa Hoffman at HoffmanL(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

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