Guard Time in the Big Easy

Strangely enough, I actually have something in common with Taylor Swift since, even though I’m nobody, Kanye West has insulted both of us to a worldwide audience. When (in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina) people made a big deal out of him declaring ‘…. George Bush doesn’t care about black people.’ People largely ignored the far worse statement he made just beforehand rambling about the Louisiana governor calling out the National Guard as signaling a campaign of violence targeting the black community ‘they’ve given them permission to go down and shoot us.’ As if such police actions consist of arbitrary (or even random) killings like in so many 70’s movies. On the other hand I have something in common with Kanye since I hate how the media portrays my group, and by mid-2005 news coverage did not lack in attempts by major outlets to make the whole military seem guilty of the misdeeds of a few bad actors. When the disaster went down I felt a duty to help but I did not have much means to donate, so instead I volunteered through my National Guard unit.

Even though Washington State lies on the far side of the country from region hit by the hurricane I, like many others in the group, had relatives who living in that impacted region. Domestic call-ups for civil emergencies often get filled in an add-hoc manner with everything getting newly organized concurrently with the needed training. I knew a few other people from the recent deployment to the Middle East, but for good reason different skills and experience levels tend to get split up and spread around for such domestic missions. For the first several days my unit remained a shifting jumble of faces as the task force took shape.

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Our typical way of rolling through the streets. Helmets are required for riding on tactical vehicles, but we conducted our foot patrols in softcaps.

The US Army often masks unnecessary hurdles with insults to justify them after the fact. After I volunteered to a call from my parent unit, they gave all of us the day and time to report to our armory for the first formation for basic accountability and organization. Even outside of this call-up our unit had a fluid situation since, in addition to our recent return from the Middle East, the entire brigade was getting restructured—and much of our gear got shifted around often without us having access to it. The commander of the newly Minted Task Force Raven wasted no time declaring our group could not be trusted, and put us on lockdown (yes they felt the need to layer on a condemnation even though at that point volunteering remained our only mistake). Furthermore he declared that the same no drinking policy as applied to American units in the Middle East applied to us, a policy justified as avoiding offending local culture (even though other Western militaries actually get rations of alcoholic beverages in the same zones) a claim no one could honestly make about the Gulf Coast. I showed up in uniform and had some of my gear available, but much of what I needed remained at my home, and other soldiers in the group could not even round up the keys they needed to access the rooms which stored their gear; nevertheless since we had obviously fucked up to get put on lockdown no exceptions could be made to gear people up or let them sort out any last minute business. But our first-day humiliation was not yet complete as the General declared that for the duration we would all consider ourselves married to him that he thus owned all sexual rights to us, a fit of madness which applied to married personnel and single ones alike. Our group ended up about the size of a battalion, but somehow, we still ended up with a one-star general presiding over us, but that was not an uncommon occurrence in the National Guard as groups like ours were drawn from much larger formations who still wanted to raise their flag over the action.

Primarily they herded us around like cattle, and when it finally dawned on the chain of command that the gear shortages could prove a problem, they sent us to the Central Issuing Facility for brand new gear instead of letting people go to get theirs or releasing others to scrounge their own supplies of extra stuff. Knowing the heat of the Gulf Coast even in the early fall, wanting to pack light, and not wanting accountability for a whole new mountain of costly equipment I opted for the bare minimum primarily an old set of ‘Nam era web gear and a poncho instead of the dozens of items they wanted to hand me. Even as we trained up people voiced admiration for how much less restrictive my setup was over the heavier newer gear they carried. A few days later we all got issued a shiny new pair of boots with cold weather liners which proved of absolutely no use on the deployment. This might have been partially because of the phasing out of the BDU uniform pattern (along with its black boots) in favor of the futuristic looking (and otherwise useless) ACU pattern.

Basic riot control training ensued and the unit made sure to pack along the batons and face shields several days later when we deployed. Riot lines work like medieval battles with pushes and counter pushes and a huge emphasis on crowd psychology. One of the most important factors remained for the policing group to not escalate a situation since studies have shown when they turn into the aggressors crowds tend to react back with even more aggression. They even mirror the old Roman tactic of always leaving escape routes for the opposition since a cornered enemy becomes more dangerous. While many just wanted to go through the motions I encouraged people to make real contact on the drills and get used to it. While in Iraq I filled a sergeant’s role running my truck while my staff sergeant oversaw organization of the section, but my lack of promotion left me reset in position every time I worked with a new group. Here I supported the NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers) by encouraging the other guys while respectfully making the occasional suggestion. Mostly people saw me as very straight-laced, but experienced. Overall I felt impressed by the speed Guard units could train, at least when not saddled with too many Political Correctness briefings on harassment and feelings (in a typical year most units spend about two full days on such briefings out of the total time they can really train which usually comes up to much less than forty days total). Running through one class after another in a rough and tumble fashion also gets units used to a high tempo of operations and frequent changes.

While we stayed busy the various headquarters groups over us had a much larger and harder job to fill. They gave us information almost every day about the changing situation and how we needed to train, but the where and the how of our deployment stayed protean. Staff Sergeant (abbreviated to SSG) Pitt led my squad, but with him helping headquarters in those early days a Sergeant Nakamura filled the role most of the time. Even as we worked a second major storm, Hurricane Rita, swept over the Gulf Coast flooding New Orleans through the still broken levees, but within a couple days we learned the effect proved minimal since the damage had already been done. I got to know some of the other guys and it was the usual mix of backgrounds in a Guard unit, some guys had good jobs but wanted to volunteer while others preferred a call-up over their usual jobs. Volunteering delayed my return to college by another quarter but in my company, I only met a couple other active students thanks in part to the unit’s habit of ignoring college schedules and a broader difficulty in accessing programs which looked attractive on paper. Everyone I met felt motivated to help but routines have a way of setting in.

Shortly before flying to the afflicted region we received a more concrete mission along with a destination of New Orleans itself. Every time we had to move we lugged around our gear and most experienced people like me brought very little making others jealous of how little we needed to drag around. Some ended up bringing three different types of raingear, and so much assorted stuff that running out of room (and finding a loophole in the restricted number of bags we could bring) tied smaller bags to their larger ones creating awkward and heavy loads that tangled together with other similar bags into rat nests of tangled strings and straps—all from a failure to prioritize. The movement followed the standard hurry up and wait pattern of the military where we sat around for several hours inside a hangar with little to do at least until someone lost something. Then they declared the missing phone an act of theft and had hundreds of us riffle through our bags and pockets in one layout after another searching for it. Some of the newer guys worried that with how seriously they seemed to take it the incident might cause a delay, but I just quietly told them whether the phone was found or not the inspections would take exactly as long as our superiors chose it to. No one would put off our departure, or anything else of significance, for an easily replaced personal item and I guessed all the fanfare served primarily to keep us busy. Once our departure neared they dropped the matter, and a day later the special-needs-case found his phone in his own bag which naturally they had failed to check. An extra piece of comedy which our veterans had expected was the requirement that although we carried M16s, M4s and M9s and knives with us onto the commercial plane tweezers and multitools (a very common accessory in the military) needed storing in our checked baggage, security theater at its very best. After touching down, somewhere well north of Baton Rouge, we got bussed to a farm where we milled around for a couple hours trying to keep organized. Our designated quarters proved to be some of what I guessed were cattle sheds, they had roofs but the sides seemed more designed to restrict movement than to provide shelter which was fine since it allowed airflow in the sweltering heat. NCOs moved around making sure our unit of Washitonians for whom 90 degrees felt overpowering drank plenty of water in the 110 plus degree humid heat. For the Iraq vets (and anyone else who had spent time in truly hot climates) it felt at worst mildly uncomfortable.

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To this day I’m not sure about the intention of these shelters.

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But something’s better than nothing.

Even as we settled in good news came down that we would depart for New Orleans right away. From hurrying up to wait our mission finally picked up a sense of urgency as we got our stuff together and rallied up for accountability and loaded once more onto buses. The bus proved nice with comfortable seats and mini-TVs coming down from the ceiling, but the driver put on a sermon spoken in Southern accent so thick we could hardly decipher it and so loud we could hardly hear each other talk. After about fifteen minutes, and realizing the driver intended on playing the tape the whole way, SSG Pitt politely requested he turn it down so people could get a bit of sleep. We arrived in the parking of the Marriot Hotel in downtown New Orleans and filed into the conference rooms which would serve as our billets, crowding in with a couple hundred people stuffed into a single room and when we lay down on the floor it became elbow to elbow. Even with the crowding air-conditioning and flush toilets felt like high luxuries.

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When staying in a fancy hotel isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Wanting to keep up to date I managed to acquire a national newspaper and it did not lack for coverage of the recovery on the Gulf Coast. Even when I read different sources they usually memed many of the same lines even when those lines failed a basic smell test. Again and again I read the same background given about New Orleans and its decline, but always followed with drivel about a resurgence through the tourism sector leaving me to wonder how a city with a well-known sixty-eight percent poverty rate (one of the absolute poorest in entire country) be considered a come-back story. A single well-curated district does not a success make. In a city which before the disaster had only around two percent Hispanics it seemed all the lower level workers at the hotel were from Mexico or Central America and when I talked briefly with a couple of them they mentioned being brought to the city for the job. I had read about how many businesses, and even embassies, would intentionally hire people from well outside the worksite especially in cases where theft became a problem. I did not question why the hotel (and likely the other nice hotels in the city) hired who they did or why, I just had to wonder why different national newspapers with different perspectives would just repeating the same lines when it was obvious that tourism did not have any broad affect on the city as a whole.

A piece of comedy came to us that the top floors of the hotel had been taken over by the mayor’s office even though City Hall remained undamaged and sat just down the street. The word circling around was that Ray Naggin, the already much-maligned major, liked throwing his weight around and enjoyed the comfort of staying at the Marriot and running his operation from the same building. While the story probably had some truth to it, I always took barrack’s gossip with a grain of salt.

We finally found out the areas of the city our different ad hoc companies would patrol, and my company had an area about a dozen blocks east of the French Quarter, and a little west of the suddenly famous Lower Ninth Ward, which loosely corresponded to the Bywater neighborhood. While outside of the official leadership circles, I made a couple rounds strongly recommending every patrol carry at least one mobile phone and have the number for someone in our headquarters just in case of radio troubles. It took much of the next day to arrange vehicles along with a few other odds and ends, but we rolled out just after dark of the day after our very late arrival. Most of the city remained blacked out, drawing a contrast between the downtown areas (to include the French Quarter) with the rest of the city which could have been seen from space. Riding in the back of an open-topped cargo Humvee we had a friendly bit of conversation with some people driving in just behind us from an animal welfare group despite all of us being in different moving vehicles.

While many of us were used to operating in more than fifty pounds of gear for this we moved light, and even Helmets were only required while in moving tactical vehicles. On many domestic call-ups ammunition does not even get issued, even when weapons are, and plenty of well-known photographs of the National Guard when examined closely testify to this fact with clearly empty M16s and pouches sagging from their hollowness. In the call-ups to watch airports just after 9/11 many carried nothing, but others like the men called up from our unit got properly drilled and issued with as much ammunition as they felt practical. For this we each only got a few rounds, but with more available with the quick reaction forces. I do not know if this came from a lack of trust in our hastily assembled and trained group, or from a lack of supplies. After splitting off we circled around our sector which remained completely blacked out, and after about an hour in the vehicles we parked them in the compound our company had claimed for a base of operations. The New Orleans Center for Creative Arts served as our new base since after a cataclysm everything sat basically open, and space properly enclosed with a high fence looked ideal for our purposes.

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SSG Pitt led us out on a foot patrol of the nearer part of our district. It felt eyrie moving down those streets, the damage did not look that bad, but with no power or people anywhere it felt a lot like we had walked into a zombie movie. We used our flashlights to look around, more out of curiosity of the buildings and the effects from the storm than from any real hope to catch looters in the act. Many of the houses were quite lovely even in the dark, but making the situation feel that much more surreal every doorway in our area bore the marks from inspections after the first storm. While it looked arcane the marks served as an efficient shorthand for who checked it when they looked and how many people they had found. Far more ominous was the number at the top, which in that night in that area was always a zero, the number of human bodies found in a building.

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Sometimes the markings could devolve into a strange sort of soup.

The only real cause for alarm came from the occasional stray dog, but SSG Pitt, or Jeremy as some of the senior people had already started calling him, had a civilian job which equipped him for just that sort of problem. He shut off people’s power for the utility companies, and thus was quite used to having people directly sick their animals on him and for that eventuality he carried pepper spray. One guy objected to such a harsh method but I reminded him shooting the dogs remained the only other real option we had if they spoiled to attack.

Close to midnight we found a light on a darkened street, and feeling curious to know more about our district and to find out what we could from locals, so we approached it. Ambient noise of music and conversation trickled out of the building’s front door, and SSG Pitt took one guy and walked inside while the rest of us waited and watched the street. A few minutes later they came back out telling us it was a bar which had its own generator, accounting for the light, and that everything was fine and that everyone inside was super friendly. He told us we could go in and introduce ourselves, since we wanted good relations, but not to let them buy us any drinks. This already piqued my powers of common-sense, but it didn’t sound ominous, so I walked inside and the first thing I saw was a poster of a naked dude on the wall. The bartender and patrons welcomed us in some of them complimenting our uniforms through slight lisps, commenting on how glad they felt to have us around while offering our better-looking guys drinks. We asked about the area and they told us that aside from some fires and sporadic looting just after the first storm the area nothing had happened since their return a few days prior. Amidst the friendly chit chat I laughingly whispered to Jeremy if he knew he had invited the lot of us into a gay bar, and he snickered his reply that he only picked up on it after we all came in. Even though our patrol had already gone for awhile its meandering route meant the bar sat only a couple blocks from our compound, and the bar’s residents felt very happy to have a supply of fit uniformed men so close by. On a serious note, they got our unit’s contact number since they seemed to have very little faith in the NOPD (which many felt a fitting acronym for the notoriously corrupt New Orleans Police Department) even before the disaster stretched it past the breaking point.

We continued our patrol with Sergeant Nakamura, and maybe one other guy, puzzled by the bar and stunned by the revelation so obvious to the rest of us. Moving north we saw more damage to the area from both the storm and from the anarchy which came with it, but mostly things looked intact. Many buildings had warnings spray painted on them stating the owners had stayed and would shoot looters on sight. When we finally got back to base we received word that we would not return to the Marriot, and that came with grumblings that the mayor’s office did not want any National Guard staying there even though the Guard provided much of the hotel’s security. We would get our gear in the morning, but for the moment we simply curled up in the courtyards of our compound and got some shuteye and the weather remained warm enough that we did not need any shelter.

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In the daylight, our compound proved very nice to look at with recent buildings built partially over much older ones. It took some examining to find any damage from the storm at all. We returned to the Marriot to get our stuff, and learned some people would stay there so I guessed us getting turned away came down more to crowding than anything malicious. The keys to the school had been found and the place opened up and different squads took different rooms with mine taking up residence in a large pottery studio. The security of getting indoors and having a real layout, however, became outweighed by an anxious feeling of trespassing. Displays on the walls and the equipment around the room let us know the place had a life before our arrival and the NCOs reminded people to act as proper guests. With the restoration of power to parts of the area residents could officially return. Not unlike the downtown our compound, along with the southern part of our area, sat along the bank of the Mississippi which elevated and protected it from the flooding—part of the ‘sliver by the river’. Our second real patrol kicked off that afternoon, and wanting to try different methods we did it all on foot and with SSG Pitt helping move our headquarters to the compound SGT Nakamura led us. In the light the damage actually seemed less apparent since we did not have the same kind of blinders as we looked around. We saw far more of the wind damage to many roofs, but people had started to return and in many cases had started clearing out damaged items onto the sidewalks. Refrigerators became the most common and obvious item. With people quickly clearing out and no power in a semi-tropical heat for a few weeks food had become rancid. The stink from the machines was beyond what normal people could deal with or repair, so they just dragged them from their homes and left them beside the street. Those became almost as ubiquitous as the markings on the buildings from the searches and far more obvious.

Elysian Field’s Ave, a nice obvious double street separated by a broad median, formed the western limit of our AOR (area of responsibility), and walking north along it we met a couple of social workers helping an old lady to return to her home. After a couple minutes of talking about the general situation they made a request: the home had a putrid fridge in it which needed moving and both the social workers put together would have trouble even budging it. Most of the patrol looked excited at the chance to help out, especially Specialist Robinson who hailed originally from Mississippi, but SGT Nakamura proved uninterested. He was not a bad NCO most of the time but he had the banal mentality of a middle-management functionary and a passive-aggressive West Coast attitude. He told us to get ready to move on while shrugging: ‘This isn’t part of our job.’ As our leader he had final say, even though the rest of us could do the lifting, but aside from wanting to help I knew a couple others might just ignore him. Given a chance to say something really cool I can safely report you will always feel better for grasping the bull by the horns and just going with it—no matter how cheesy it comes out—so I replied: ‘If this isn’t our job then why are we even here?’ Unevenly he repeated ‘This isn’t part of our job.’ I don’t think I could have simply moved on with a wandering presence patrol turning down the chance to do some actual good, but I suspected his refusal came more from indecision so I suggested: ‘Get on the radio ask the TOC if it’s okay for us to move a fridge for a sweet old lady.’ The Tactical Operations Center came back in seconds as the lieutenant in charge that replied that of course it was a good idea, and with that Nakamura gave the go ahead.

Inside the heat felt much worse for the lack of breeze, and the smell from the fridge hit us right away. Even the small space was quite beautiful with the old furniture and pictures of family members all over the walls with the woman identifying different family members for us in her welcoming manner while mentioning that he had lived in that house for nearly fifty years. The tight spaces inside proved difficult for maneuvering the large fridge and it took me and the other two biggest guys, to include the very burly Robinson, to lift the old machine over some of the furniture. Once we had it outside the social workers helped wrap us wrap some duct-tape around it to keep it shut, and we asked about what would happen with all of those fridges. They told us that salvagers were already moving in cleaning them up and fixing them and then reselling them with the city glad to have them taken out of the way. After a few minute breather and drinking some water we moved on.

St Claude, another nice and broad thoroughfare, created the most significant border within our area dividing it starkly between the somewhat better off section of older buildings on higher ground from where the city had eventually (and probably inadvisably) expanded into the lower ground in part after the construction of the levees. Some of our guys knew more than most about that system than most and according to them it had actually worked as intended even with the breach, but the storm had been larger than they were designed to withstand. Even though the area looked as flat as a pancake I could see a line at first just at the very base of buildings and then noticing it on everything else, constant and level—the high-water-mark. As we patrolled we saw it gradually higher and higher on everything as we moved almost imperceptibly yet ominously down hill inch by inch. While it stayed just at the level of the foundations the damage remained minimal, yet once it got over that the increase in noticeable damage increased massively. Even the buildings left largely intact would have to be gutted to deal with the mold and slowly that watermark edged ever upwards. Even on foot all the interference in the area gave our radio trouble. The markings looked very much like they did in the other area, except that now every so often we might find a one or a two instead of the relieving zeroes. We spotted the occasional dead dog including a Rottweiler caught at the top of a house’s fence, a grizzly reminder that we patrolled through an open wound.

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A different patrol from my unit helping people clear out a house.

After a couple hours, we walked generally south again and closer to our base, and met some more people returning to their lives. We helped secure a couple doors as best we could but mostly there was not much we could do other than reassure people by our presence. What seemed far worse than the damage from the storm or the looting was all the senseless damage from arson since it resisted any rational context. Outside our new favorite gay bar the proprietor talked to use briefly and introduced us to one of his friends: a very cute female bartender Alison who worked at a bar named Mimi’s across the street and like the others she felt glad to have a military unit close by.

Finally, we got back and our company’s leadership gathered everyone up for a quick formation and something of a review of our first couple days. First off the unofficial suggestion I passed around about cellular phones was added to our SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) adding a minimum of two phones and a list of potentially important numbers. Some of the mounted patrols had completely lost radio contact, but stayed in reliable communications through their phones. Our company made sure to pass this to other units with the commanders making it SOP across the whole task force. They talked a little about different patrol methods, and decided to have us sling our weapons during the day. One of our patrols had actually found human remains under some debris, so they reminded us to stay alert. Finally they talked about how they received a call from the city about some National Guardsmen helping an old lady with her refrigerator and told us: ‘This is exactly what we want you guys doing. Make contact with the community and help out any way you can. This is why we’re here.’ Shortly after the formation, SSG Pitt pulled me aside saying her had heard about Nakamura’s reluctance to step up, and that Robinson had actually felt tempted to punch him out, but that I had handled it perfectly. Because of that and a couple other incidents they would start placing a little less faith in Nakamura unless he showed improvement.

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Ironic humor and an indefatigable spirit proved hallmarks of those rebuilding.

The company did not have any formal platoons, but our squad frequently worked with another one to where it became something of an informal detachment within the company. Even as civilian traffic increased so did patrols by us and by a plethora of other organizations. Commonly we saw beefy SUVs from different federal agencies roving the streets, US Marshals, FBI and Customs all became common sights and when we talked to them we found out they had arsenals in the back of their vehicles. From time to time we heard the distinctive roar of quad bikes and saw a wolf-pack of around eight DEA agents riding together through the streets with M4s strapped to their backs. Strangely enough we carried far less military style equipment than most anyone else patrolling those streets.

One of the more popular memes which still circulates various media about the National Guard shows it as cloistered gendarme meant for lower intensity domestic missions, duties bared from the Active Duty for some arcane reason, and that’s when we’re not shown as fat psychotic incompetents. In one episode of the series 24 the president watching a potential riot situation responds to a request from the local governor to activate the National Guard and orders them issued with rubber bullets. Within about fifteen minutes they’re fully equipped on the scene and in action. Such popular depictions do affect the real world as people expect reality to more or less resemble what they’ve seen. In many cases disaster responses have slowed as governors wait for the Federal Government to step in and take control. In this case the governor of Louisiana while deploying the forces available to her state went through the feds to get forces from other states instead of using going through the other states—which they eventually did anyways—to get additional units even though that took much longer and would have resulted in much more constrained rules for employment.

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Humvees proving their worth.

Interestingly the agreements passed since the early 90’s after Hurricane Andrew allowing states to share resources, particularly National Guard units also applied to first responders in general allowing police and paramedics from across the country to help in the recovery efforts. This system in of itself could fill pages, but constitutes a novel approach which parallels and compliments the Federal Government enabling much of the efficiency of local government but allowing for mobilization on a national scale in a time of need. If only the European Union could find approaches half as sensible as the Emergency Management Assistance Compacts. Because of that we not only saw numerous federal agencies represented on the streets, but many local ones as well. Police from New York and San Diego and seemingly everywhere in between patrolled the streets in their own vehicles, and between all the efforts from so many organizations what had been one of the most dangerous cities in the country became its safest. Even the darkest streets still got lit up sporadically by floodlights shined from law enforcement vehicles. Even with areas reopened we enforced curfews so that even though people could stay out late they could do so only in their own neighborhood. An arbitrary restriction but it worked.

As we made contact with people around our neighborhood most of them knew little about the Guard and at first many reacted with abject fear. Aside from bad old movies 2005 did not lack for recent reports, and regurgitations of reports, of military abuses and misdeeds which often tried to conflate the crimes of the few with everyone in uniform. Such illustrious snot-rags as the New York Times even made the case for the bunch of ticking time bombs stereotype by displaying what looked like a vastly higher crime rate among veterans. It hardly mattered that this did not hold up to scrutiny (young men in general have an astronomically higher crime rate and younger veterans as a sub-group prove on average much more law abiding) the meme got repeated enough for people to believe it; moreover a friend who worked airport security during the post 9/11 call up one day even overheard a couple of police at the airport remarking ‘What really worries me are these National Guard guys. They’re making problem worse. A bunch of psychos with guns…’ And during that same period people constantly expressed dismay at the mere presence of the military, and in contrast the TSA’s presence did not become so unpopular until they started groping the genitals of toddlers. To finally make my point deluded hip hop stars are not the only ones with deep-seated fears of Guardsmen roving the streets; however even people who absorbed that narrative usually also ascribed to the popular lip service, and even from the beginning of the call up a great deal of criticism came more about the National Guard’s over commitment to war zones than whether or not it should be used for a disaster. Even Kanye’s ramble complained about those deployments just before talking about the domestic call up as if it would be roving death squads leaving me to wonder if people like that shouldn’t be happy about fewer troops? The problem was not individual people (no matter how famous) and their worries, but of these popular and contradictory memes in the press causing understandable confusion which we sometimes had to fight through to gain people’s trust. Fortunately for us once we got on the ground, and people could start judging us for themselves, word of mouth became so positive that even the ardent anarchists in the neighborhood became welcoming to our presence.

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One might expect everyone to welcome assistance, but crazies will act crazy.

A couple days after our first patrol two other guys and I volunteered some of our downtime to assist Alison in cleaning up Mimi’s Bar and getting it ready to reopen. Cleaning up a bar seemed like the most philanthropic deed we could do. As expected removing some refrigerators (a couple of them from the upstairs) proved the hardest part, but we knocked those out in short order. Thankfully the roof had held up well, though there was a bit of mess from leakage which we quickly cleaned up along with giving the whole place a proper wipe down and tidying. Within three hours Alison called up her boss ecstatically telling Mimi to send in the health inspectors and that we had cleaned the place up better than it had looked before the storm. She offered us celebratory drinks at the end which we had to refuse, but we made a deal that since Mimi’s stood so close to the school our guys could come by there to hang out. They could order cokes and the staff would make sure that, wink wink nudge nudge, nothing in anyway rum related would find its way into our drinks. We became curious about why many residents of our area sounded more like Northeasterners than anything and Alison told us about how the families of many people who lived in that area had come down chiefly from Brooklyn decades before as part of some of the older construction projects and ended up staying put leaving a New York stamp on a whole section of town. Unfortunately even though some of the people who had returned knew many of the people who ran the school none had working contact numbers, and the more we settled in the more we felt like intruders.

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Mimi’s bar.

Wood framed houses which had lifted off their foundations, and moved around before coming to rest when the waters receded formed one of the odder common sights of our area. Some had run over cars, while others looked perfectly intact just left in preposterous locations. One sat squarely in the center of a road spurring us to sing ‘Our house, in the middle of our street, our house’ when we passed it. Some houses rested on stilts to protect them, but most of the time those had proven much too short. On one of our first patrols through one area still officially closed we met a man who stayed behind who proved a charming wellspring of conspiracy theories. He insisted the tap-water had stayed fine the whole time and the claims it had become unsafe were just an attempt to force people from their homes, but we were not about to test the theory. Before we moved on he also told us we were the first white folks to come down his street in some decades. He also expressed confusion over the identity of some of the people coming into the city for work since they were neither white nor black, and we gave him a quick run down about Hispanic Americans a phenomenon apparently mostly unknown to the city up until that point. The downtown hotels truly formed an island onto themselves.

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Not to claim the downtown didn’t have its own problems.

Water remained in a sizable area of the huge bowl much of the newer city rested in and even a heavy dose of rainfall could have accumulated sending the levels back up again, and thus one of the most important sites in our sector became a small compound housing a series of pumps. Contractors worked away on those, but told us how of the four only one was of the newer kind which could survive submersion and the three they labored to fix were basically junk and needed replacing altogether; regardless they worked on getting them operational even while we rotated guards to watch the building. In general, public buildings with solid construction looked mostly intact, and even though they needed repairs might soon come back into use by the city. Thus we frequently sent patrols to search the ones in our area, and while we found damage, and signs people had camped in them we never found anybody.

As each day passed we saw more and more people, and many of them came from all over the country for various jobs. With the schools and most businesses closed and a huge labor shortage companies started offering huge bonuses to attract workers even to basic unskilled jobs McDonalds, for example, offered bonuses of up to six thousand dollars just for burger flippers. Anyone running a restaurant had a virtual license to print cash and any skills at construction or repair made people into heroes. Many people from around the country took a shining to local culture, and one of our guys who grew up in South Carolina talked about a similar effect after Hurricane Andrew. Quite a few people who volunteered to help after that disaster, or came there for recovery work, ended up staying; however another preposterous meme tried to stir up hostility it ran that these outsiders stole jobs from locals willfully ignoring the massive labor shortage. Even the mayor repeated such claims, and as we met more people from the neighborhood we learned more of why. Ray Naggin while a Democrat had served as something of a Republican proxy, but with people turning against him both left and right he changed tack to naked populism even spouting conspiracy theories claiming the CIA might assassinate him to make him a scapegoat. One person who got universally positive reviews was the US Coast Guard admiral who by then headed up the federal efforts. People remarked on the amazing efficiency of a man who when hearing of trouble at a press conference would get on a radio or a phone in the middle of it to arrange for a fix; furthermore many of the locals we met hoped he might return and run for mayor.

Pop tents sprung up around the city, sometimes on the lawns of homes under repair (mold precluding staying indoors) and in one case a tent city primarily from an animal rescue group took over a large section of the parking lot of a big box pets store. We usually got along really well with the volunteers, and the more people learned about who we actually were (full-time civilians and only part time military) the more they saw us as like those volunteers. Many seemed surprised at the concept of citizen soldiers, a testament to the dismal state of American education. Some of the people in our area held ardent leftist beliefs and very poor relations with the NOPD, and increasingly people saw us as their first choice to call for help if they needed it. Many of our guys had extremely different politics from many of the people in that district, where Marxist newspapers were readily available, but the volunteerism gave us common ground which outweighed everything else.

Marooned Boat

Marooned Boat

Even as we built a good reputation we had setbacks. First a patrol from the unit east of us had taken their lunch in the French Quarter (thus leaving their post while on duty) and been seen drinking with their meal, thus higher started watching us more closely. Secondly one of the animal rescue people told us locals had beaten her up (they assumed her intentions were to steal animals) and a patrol of Guardsmen passed right by while doing nothing. They came from our unit (though not our company) adding to our embarrassment. When confronted afterwards they had replied that it hadn’t seemed like part of their job. Fortunately our leadership could do something by figuring out exactly who it was and putting word through the correct channels. While I did not participate in the resolution of that I felt confident that something would be done and extra reminders got put out about protecting people which should have been superfluous. Like in so many cases during the relief efforts failure came from indecision more than anything. While the military actively teaches leadership qualities its bureaucratic nature carries risk aversion as a default setting.

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We had spent a few days at the school before one of the administrators finally came back, and immediately told us that finding us there proved one of the biggest reliefs of his life. The school housed millions of dollars worth of equipment for film and music and theater, and the news had inundated him with it images of fires and looting. Instead of any of those fears coming true he found the school tightly secured, and even getting cleaned up, by a force of Guardsmen. We had acted carefully to respect the facility and getting into contact with the officials put our minds to rest. They did not expect to reopen for students for months to come, and we probably could have made room for what they needed. One of our nearby units cohabitated a convent with the nuns, so a few extra people around would not have hurt. After that we had the confidence of invited guests and even put up a sumptuously woodworked sign at the front of our base identifying it as F.O.B (Forward Operating Base) Fame.

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Cue the theme music

We quickly learned that our very bohemian area was known for its gay community, and during our off-time we fielded the occasional question about military politics. Fortunately as policy implementers and not makers we didn’t need to have much of an opinion on various restrictions. We had female medics attached full-time to our company and patrolling with us regularly, and amongst ourselves we probably talked about the military policies dealing with homosexuals less than many civilians did. In general we had more concern over things like the Army not allowing us to bring our privately owned handguns even on a domestic mission where they would have proven a little more handy indoors than the M16s most of us carried, plus adding the benefit of getting to carry a decent load of ammunition. Mimi’s became an unofficial hang out for our company even before they officially reopened, and by encouraging our guys to frequent that spot we kept a closer eye on them than if they had wandered around. Having developed good relations with the staff also allowed us to find out if any of our people acted foolishly and reign them in as soon as it happened.

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Even as we socialized with locals we picked up on what techniques worked the best. In particular people felt impressed by our foot patrols since even though they moved slowly their relative stealth created a permanent uncertainty about our presence. At any moment a patrol might pass by or turn a corner and no one would know about it until it was right on top of them. Following this advice we increased the number of those and also started encouraging basic infantry tactics like noise and light discipline. Shining our lights around satisfied our own curiosity, but it did far more to broadcast our positions than to see anything important. If people needed to say something they could talk, if they needed to look they could turn on a light, but other than that becoming phantoms proved our best deterrent. Aside from tactics the locals appreciated our general attitude, while many, especially from the federal agencies, had was people described as a heavy-handed and disdainful attitude of wanting to change the city. The Guard, or so the description went, seemed much more about providing just the security needed for rebuilding and to appreciate local culture. Quite the contrast from the Hollywood tropes of heavy-handed military interventions as opposed to Federal Agents scrupulously concerned with civil rights as shown in bad movies like the Siege. In our case we never got used to the idea of policing and never felt wholly comfortable with applying martial law (which the situation essentially was) and that was probably a good thing. To be clear one of our real advantages was just from the numbers deployed, those squad sized foot-patrols covering a limited area would have been hard to justify for any specialized law enforcement agency, but residing in and patrolling the same area let us become familiar with it very quickly while making our presence a constant fixture. Regardless of the 19th Century political wrangling’s which led to Posse Comitatus (the law preventing the use of federal troops directly as law enforcers) our temporary role helped us relate to the public and their concerns. Indeed many of the worries of heavy-handed and even tyrannical means which informed those laws have reemerged in popular skepticism about the often highly militarized police and federal agencies.

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The loss of faith in law enforcement in our area went back decades and became exasperated by the exaggerated stories of New Orleans cops either deserting their posts or even participating in the looting. Our putting a human face on the government’s aegis, while hard to quantify, had real value in giving people the peace of mind needed to return and rebuild.

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From time to time our duties took us out of our usual patrol zone to a decidedly upper-class area which had a recourse unavailable to most people in the city: private security contractors (the popular euphemism for mercenaries). Companies more used to deploying far overseas stationed men at the entrances of neighborhoods which could afford the service, and the opportunity attracted contractors from as far away as Israel. I have seen complaints about the unfairness of such superior protection of rich areas, but it’s not like it came out of public expenses and it freed us to focus on the rest of the city.

Driving into the largely vacant areas one night we spotted a small crowd outside of Loew’s and sensing trouble right away we moved to investigate. A couple of security guards outside looked relieved to see us as we took stock of, and almost by default control over, the situation. Selling building supplies looked like possibly the best business model in the city, and the store did not have any serious damage placing it in an ideal position if only it could reopen. Someone from the company had rounded up nearly forty displaced people from a shelter in Baton Rouge and bused them down to the store to work offering $18.50 an hour just to start drawing plenty of interest, but things had gone wrong from the outset. On the drive down some of the people had harassed the bus driver to where he quit after dropping them off leaving the company scrambling to find a ride back north; furthermore problems had happened at the site all day with no appreciable work getting done and the atmosphere turning adversarial. Most of those people had apparently never worked a steady job and reacted poorly to the instructions from the managers, and with darkness falling and no ride forthcoming a sizable number of already irritated people grew hungry and thirsty. The situation could have blown up into a riot at any moment before we arrived. SSG Pitt called our TOC right away telling them to send the QRF with enough MREs (Meals Ready to Eat our standard field rations) for everyone and a few cases of bottled water (and how’s that for lots of abbreviations). In a soft tone, we explained the situation to the crowd and that we were there to make sure they had everything they needed till the managers could arrange a new bus.

Since we had no cause to detain anyone as directly intervene we stood around nearby while keeping our presence unobtrusive giving out bottled water to anyone who needed it. Our QRF arrived and we broke open the boxes of MREs for the crowd, at that point one of the women identified herself as from a Louisiana National Guard unit and then started agitating people by telling them we handed out crappy rations and spouting off how there were only a few good kinds. That caused a shortfall as no one wanted to touch the meals she obnoxiously told them were no good, but we managed to rustle up a few spare rations from our trucks and waited. The agitator started telling people that we had no right to detain them, even though we were doing nothing of the sort and we had to repeatedly remind people they were free to move around or even leave if they really wanted to. People still ended up feeling the need to ask our permission to so much as go to use the nearby porta-johns. SSG Pitt made sure to write down the name and parent unit of the woman doing her best to cause trouble, and passed the information onto our TOC while we waited. Strangely she seemed to expect some kind of deference from us just because of her membership in the Guard even as she tried to cause trouble. Finally after close to three hours of waiting a new bus showed up to bring the people back to their temporary home. It relieved us that the manager seemed uninterested in repeating that particular experiment.

Even in the lowest areas most of the water was gone within about a week of our arrival, but all the debris made many roads require vehicles with off-road capability giving our Humvees an advantage. Some parts of our area had been under construction when the storm hit, leaving heaps of ruined building supplies, while a few spots looked old and it was hard to tell if the road simply had a deep layer of hardened mud over them or if they had never been paved at all. Either way they were probably hamlets swallowed up when the city expanded. As the situation seemed well in hand, and the touristy areas had quickly reopened visitors returned in droves, yet much to the surprise of the local businesses they got flooded with requests to see the destruction; thus we started seeing tour buses along the major roads (once they were sufficiently cleared) in districts which had never been popular with visitors. The Lower Ninth got the most requests, but our area had plenty of destruction and we were much closer to the hotels making those tours into common sights on our patrols. The destruction did not look tragic it looked surreal and people ate it up.

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The locals displayed a unbroken spirt, joyous and welcoming even in the middle of it all. As the evening hit people would hold barbeques in their front yards on sidewalks inviting our patrols to join them for a few, but while we sometimes paused for a moment to say hello we always moved on. After one patrol I remarked about that zest for life to Nakamura who spat ‘Yeah shocking isn’t it? The whole city’s destroyed and all they want to do is party like nothing happened.’ I argued back that they worked hard every day, but had every right to enjoy themselves during their downtime. Maybe my argument reached him, but he kept his judgmental attitude, and worse he showed nothing but a smiling face to people playing the good guy and then making disparaging comments once he thought he was out of earshot. Sometimes the looks people shot him proved that they heard at least some of what he said, and he might have gotten labeled racist if not for the Japanese side of his ancestry. Even though he had seniority among the sergeants our mixed group had quickly taken to relying on people who showed better judgement, and even experienced specialists like myself often got used as junior leaders.

Things stayed mostly quiet as we got used to our beat. One night we discovered a man sleeping in a van, and discovering he came from Florida, and had no business in our neighborhood so we called in the police while we detained him. They quickly discovered he had warrants in Florida and apparently thought it a clever idea to hide out in the most tightly patrolled major city in the country. Obviously not the brightest person.

On the corner beside the gay-bar and across the street from Mimi’s a small restaurant reopened which served some pretty good sandwiches, and we threw a little patronage their way not that they really needed it. That intersection became our standard hangout and everyone who worked around there seemed like good friends while the patrons moved between the different businesses freely. More people around made the situation less tense, but even more surreal. Perhaps the highest compliment we got came over a game of pool when a local guy said ‘Thanks for making this city so safe that she (he referred to his gorgeous girlfriend) can walk around alone.’ A few people seemed to expect us to investigate or even detain some neighbors they didn’t like claiming they had shot at helicopters, but by then anyone who stayed informed knew that famous incident happened exactly one time and had been meant as a signal. Maybe some of the stories we heard about who had looted had some truth, but we had no real investigative capacity and all we could do was pass on sparse reports to the vastly overstretched police. While virtually filling the city with boots on the ground there seemed a very real gap in the ability to investigate. That we came from diverse careers and backgrounds only improved our ability to talk to different groups in our area and gain people’s trust, but trust could only take our work so far.

Even weeks after our arrival everything north of St Claude lacked power, and we shifted our efforts increasingly in that direction. The squads became much more familiar with each other increasing our efficiency. While in the early days the section sergeants typically led patrols from the front so they could control navigation they shifted to near the back to keep an eye on everyone and focus on communications once they got comfortable with others knowing the routes and handling the front. One night while walking point I made listening-halts every couple of intersections, and after a couple of hours of patience I heard something. I could not quite identify it, and it sounded like a voice but making an odd sound, an indistinct sort of bellow, and from some blocks away—far enough that no one else heard it. Realizing the likely trouble I turned to the rest of the patrol signaling that direction with my arms, and making sure to do it as wide as I could so they could see me in the dark, before taking off in that direction. I ran quickly but tried to limit how much noise I made and after a few seconds I heard the squad following. I didn’t know that they had not seen my signal at all, but saw me suddenly turn and bolt with hardly a sound down the street like a predator and they followed by default.

Again I heard the noise up ahead and could confirm it as a wail of pain, but I kept my pace not wanting to make too much noise or outpace the group. Identifying the scream as coming from a house I took position outside and announced ‘NATIONAL GUARD’, since I really didn’t know what else to say, while shining my flashlight at the front. Even as the squad started catching up a man burst from the front door and before I could ask him anything he said something about being attacked by his brother and then pointed at a deep wound on his neck. Even as we took control Robinson sat the man down and started giving first aid, by bad luck we lacked a medic that night. A gaggle of people came out onto the porch, one man a woman and a couple kids, the man still held a broken and jagged length of plastic pipe. I ordered him to put down the weapon and stay on the porch and seeing SSG Pitt arriving, with a couple guys still trailing. I told him what I knew and suggested that we call the TOC for an ambulance and some police while we stabilized the situation. He took care of that while I directed our guys.

The family on the porch claimed the wounded man had broken into their home to loot it and that the father had just defended them. The wounded man stood up even as Robinson tried to staunch the blood-flow from his neck protesting that the father was his brother and they had been staying together. Again I stepped in backing everyone up and getting the wounded man to sit down reassuring him that we would not just take the other man’s story at face value. As things calmed they confirmed him as a member of the family who had stayed with them since the storm, but the father kept up his claim that he had broken in. It did not seem likely that surrounded by darkened streets and vacant homes anyone would break into the one house he knew held occupants. There was some word about an argument, which seemed a much more likely story, but we just repeated that proper statements would be taken by actual investigators once they arrived.

Less than two minutes had passed when a squad car from the San Diego PD arrived and stepped in. Pitt asked me if the man was dying and I realized when I told everyone what I saw I had poorly chosen the word stabbed, which quickly turned into stabbed in the throat. The incident was being communicated out to everyone with alarmist tones and we had to clarify the injury as not immediately life-threatening. Only a long moment after the arrival of the SDPD an ambulance pulled up and took over working on the injury, and just after them vehicle from the US Marshals.

The situation seemed well in hand with us taking directions from the law enforcers and no one causing further trouble, but then in rapid succession more and more units arrived. The NYPD came followed closely by the DEA. More vehicles each one representing a different agency or police department, we must have had one of the most broadly represented busts in the history of law enforcement happening within just a few minutes and it all happened over fairly simple domestic dispute. The more lights shone from our darkened corner of the city the more important it looked attracting more and more patrols like moths to a flame. My patrol took to just directing traffic and filling people in on the situation while suggesting a larger presence was no longer needed. In the few months of massive presence of law enforcement after the storm New Orleans could boast very little crime and no murders at all a statistic which would likely have been ruined were it not for my patrols’ quick intervention, but we remained an auxiliary to properly trained police. The overreaction resulted from how quiet the city had become leaving everyone eager to get in on anything which actually happened.

Once again our reaction to an incident became lauded and Robinson got a well deserved Army Commendation Medal for stepping in and giving first aid. Many felt confused why I did not also get one for taking the initiative by finding the situation and calming things down, and SSG Pitt along with our company’s leadership had put me in for the medal, but someone at the task force level decided the situation only merited one award regardless of individual contribution. Once again it served to remind us about the best tactics on patrols while increasing our good reputation.

 

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A destroyed building just east of our compound.

 

Not so long after the power returned to a few more modest stretches of our zone the time came to prepare to leave with our total time in place consisting of only about a month. As we patrolled a little less often we finally got an official night out on the French Quarter. Our whole platoon of eighteen went out in two white government vans, and started looking around for a place to eat with enough room for such a large party. After strolling around a few blocks Casey, our medic, got a call summoning her to a meeting back at the FOB Fame and since no one went anywhere alone I went back with her. As expected it was short and we got back about forty-five minutes later figuring the guys would have comfortably sat down to eat, and we would could just do a spot of catch up in ordering. We found our platoon scattered between a few different places with a couple guys trying to keep everyone in a reasonable proximity. They probably sent us in such a large group to make accountability easier, but the numbers ended up working against that since every time someone went ahead or fell behind someone had to herd the people back into some semblance of a group. Worse SSG Pitt, usually the sharpest and most responsible, proved the fastest to get drunk. Casey and I hung around trying to enjoy Bourbon Street while helping out where we could, but after about an hour I realized the real problem: a couple of the guys had already become plastered but had only been drinking for a little bit and thus would get rapidly worse. A couple of us hatched a plan to bring one of the vans closer so we could deposit anyone who fell out into it while the group continued on, but as more guys got drunk the situation became akin to herding cats.

It took more than half an hour just to get one van, and by then we knew we needed both and would need to head back. Two of our guys needed carrying just to move, and their vomit covered the street which had been puked on so many times before, and a couple others were very nearly out of control. Damned good thing we all wore our civies, and few would have noticed or much cared that we were in the Guard. We had gotten away with a fair bit since our arrival, especially since our company thus far looked good, and this could ruin our reputation while drawing unwanted scrutiny. After painstakingly gathering everyone up and getting a full headcount we drove back realizing another hurdle: we remained under the no drinking order and it seemed doubtful the TOC could look the other way to us dragging our guys straight through the front. Almost at once I hatched a plan, while the TOC sat between the parking lot and the rest of the compound certain fire-doors opened onto the street. One guy protested: “But those only open from the inside” To which I replied: “Yes and -I- will walk straight through the front and open them for you.” “But they’ll be able to see you.” “Yes but they won’t see anything wrong as long as I walk in like everything’s fine.”

The plan worked like a charm, a couple other guys who had also drank moderately walked through a little behind me—and together we opened up the back doors. Pulling our guys in we got them to their cots and Casey checked them before we set them to rest on their sides. In the morning, we brought them breakfast in bed, but they were already on the mend. It was our secret, and everyone kind of loved it. We could have blown our hard-earned reputation, but had come through. Jeremy personally thanked me for holding things together while some other guys felt confused. They had taken me for a goody-goody and while clearly I had a lot of technical skill I had seemed too straight-laced, and certainly not the man with the plan to get away with shenanigans. When Robinson asked me about it I showed my duplicity by producing a hipflask of scotch from my bag, the whole time I there I had packed contraband more out of hate of a ridiculous rule than any attachment to drinking. We shared a few sips while chatting like old friends.

No real questions got asked about our guys who felt under-the-weather, and they kept up on our next patrol which was one of our last. Mimi herself threw us a huge going away bash and half the neighborhood showed up, of course most of them would show up to just about any party. Unofficially officially we had a two-drink maximum and mostly just kept an eye on a couple people with impulse control problems. We had a large plaque presented at the party in honor of all of our work, and even Nakamura seemed to genuinely relax and enjoy some local color. We had a good time, and the whole program had become so popular that on a reduced level the National Guard continued to patrol the city until early 2009. While the massive presence, from so many agencies, in the end wasted resources and was never sustainable it gave the residents of the city the confidence to start rebuilding. Thanks to the internet age a couple minor scandals broke out of silly things like a SWAT team hanging out with Hooters waitresses, which only showed how a couple of minor things could color a successful deployment. Our avoiding catching any bad press had little to do with standing orders which treated us like children, and everything to do with the depth and adaptability of our leadership. If anything the excessive rules only engendered the risk adverse attitude which proved Task Force Raven’s largest shortcoming. While crappy music videos bemoaned the reaction to the disaster as coming from too many national resources deployed overseas, and truly the Guard suffered shortages of equipment even worse than the staffing problems the deployments actually had some benefits. Individual skills, at various levels, proved sharper than should have ever been expected of weekend-warriors.

Fun at the bar

Fun at the bar

People felt irritated that upon arrival back in Washington State our release got delayed for a welcome home ceremony and the handing out of a few trinkets, but gathering the whole task force up again even a couple days later would have proven nigh impossible. At the ceremony, our commander gave the expected long-winded self-aggrandizing speech which in the military always start with the ironic statement ‘I’ll be brief’ which is somehow supposed to nullify a speech being objectively protracted. For us in the crowd it only stirred up our resentment at the continuing unwarranted, or mostly unwarranted, punishments. It set us in a bad enough mood that when an assistant to US Senator Patty Murray (always a favorite among the troops) delivered remarks he said the wrong thing by stating confidence that we would all gladly volunteer for the mission over again, and we spontaneously interrupted his speech with a loud round of laughter. We felt pride in what we did, and maybe many of us would have gone again after a few months, but lousy leadership kills motivation and by then we were generally of the mind of never again making the grievous sin of volunteering. That it clearly embarrassed our tormentor in public and at a moment where he could do nothing was just the icing on the cake.

We all went back to our parent units, but having friends around had a few small advantages, and many officers now saw me as an excellent source of both technical skill and common-sense. Amidst a reorganization, one which probably did more to degrade the Guard’s reaction to the storm than the deployments, I ended up assigned to a new platoon and placed firmly at the back of the pecking order. While the Army did not even remotely value the experience it (along with some of my other life experiences) proved valuable when I started college a few months later. Too many students had seen little and done less, and many professors (particularly in geography) became fascinated by the details of what I saw and how the city worked. Particularly we could draw limited comparisons regarding the private security forces, reliance on tourism and imported workers between certain poorer parts of the US and places in the Third World.

Curiously many of my professors knew little about the Guard or how it functioned, and worse had no interest in challenges to their notions which usually proved no more informed than the usual memes. One hilariously misinformed opinion ran that the Guard should just be put to work cleaning up highways (work I assume he considered prison inmates too good for) because he imagined us as just hanging around every day working out. Time and again I ran into a preconceived notion that our deployment to the Gulf Coast carried with it heavy handed objectionable tactics, and my explanations otherwise (backed by my experience and by any decent coverage of the wider mobilization) fell on deaf ears. Problems certainly happened, but any connection to the Guard deployment remain tenuous at best. People believe things more based on how often they see and hear them than on evidence or consistency, so such reactions even from intellectuals are predictable. Behind a pro-soldier façade a level of anti-military pearl-clutching intolerance persists which could translate into healthy skepticism if those same people could attribute blame where all evidence points. If holders of Masters Degrees and PHDs could not sort through the muddled contradictory memes what hope does a hip-hop star have when he tries speaking over a larger event while too emotional to understand it. The prospect that the camouflage uniforms indicated Einsatzgruppen seemed real to some people far away, but on the ground even the most distrustful residents embraced the amateur volunteers who came to help, and that meant far more than the ravings of gay fish trying to get attention at any cost.

 

 

Post Script: I should have written this ten years ago, and as much as I will claim that changing the names of the guys from the deployment is to keep anyone from getting into trouble; however the real truth is I’m terrible with names and after so many years stand no chance of recalling them. A large part of why I wrote this down is to serve as a small primary source in a period which has started to lack the sorts of first-person accounts so valued by historians.

I also disclaim all reports of rule breaking as inserted in the interest of juicing up the story as no member of the military would ever break rules of any kind 😉

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