The Mudville Gazette
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Wednesday, August 31, 2005


In the US Military, Unified Commands are the agencies responsible for command, control, and coordination efforts between the various branches of service. The Unified Commands exercise authority over military ops in specified geographical areas of responsibitlity - EUCOM covers the European and African theaters, PACOM the Pacific, SOUTHCOM most areas of the western hemisphere south of the US, and CENTCOM the highly visible middle eastern area including Iraq and Afghanistan.

NORTHCOM is the junior sibling of the crowd. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, NORTHCOM was formed with a goal of coordinating military efforts in homeland defense.
The historical insularity of the U.S. has given way to an era of new vulnerabilities, and enemies will strike the U.S. in new and unsuspecting ways. Northern Command takes the homeland defense missions being performed by other Department of Defense organizations and puts them under a single command.
Aside from human threat, there's an obvious civil service mission that NORTHCOM can fulfill (emphasis added below):
In addition to defending the nation, U.S. Northern Command provides defense support of civil authorities in accordance with U.S. laws and as directed by the President or Secretary of Defense. Military assistance is always in support of a lead federal agency, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Military civil support includes domestic disaster relief operations that occur during fires, hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes. Support also includes counter-drug operations and consequence management assistance, such as would occur after a terrorist event employing a weapon of mass destruction.

Generally, an emergency must exceed the management capabilities of local, state and federal agencies before U.S. Northern Command becomes involved. In providing civil support, the command operates through subordinate Joint Task Forces.
Today would be that day, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina NORTHCOM gets its first large, operational test. The Colorado Springs Gazette (feature currently not available on line):
Military Moving In To Lend A Hand

NorthCom will organize task force

By News Services

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon’s U.S. Northern Command plans to set up a task force to help federal disaster authorities bring relief by military aircraft and amphibious vehicles to communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

The task force plans to have its headquarters at Camp Shelby, Miss., said Michael Kucharek, a spokesman for Colorado Springs-based Northern Command. It has established Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., as a staging area for supplies and personnel.

The task force will assist federal disaster-relief authorities primarily with aircraft and other logistical support. The Federal Emergency Management Agency requested it, Kucharek said.

The command already has sent two helicopters and crews that will enable federal disaster experts to assess the extent of the damage in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

More than 9,000 National Guard members have been called to duty for hurricane relief work in those three states, Kucharek said.

Late Tuesday, the Pentagon ordered five Navy ships and eight maritime rescue teams to the Gulf Coast to bolster relief operations.

One Navy amphibious assault ship, the Bataan, with six Sea Stallion and Sea Hawk helicopters that could be used for search and rescue missions, was en route from Texas. Four other vessels from Norfolk, Va., were expected to sail within 24 hours and take four days to reach the gulf, Northern Command Kucharek said.

The ships will carry food, fuel, medical and construction supplies, as well as hovercraft that can be used for evacuation and search-andrescue missions.

Also Tuesday, the Coast Guard called back to duty 500 reservists as part of the hurricane response. “The biggest challenge is getting enough resources — especially helicopters and small boats — to the area for the rescue work we have to do,” said Lt. Gene Maestas, a Coast Guard spokesman in Washington.
NORTHCOM has more on their home page, and you'll find updates there as time permits.

We'll hope and pray there efforts are rapid, effective, and successful. As noted, this is the first big operational test - and what looks good in planning often must be adjusted on the fly in reality. As a wise man once said, "No plan survives first contact with the enemy". Likewise, because this effort will prove a point about "over stretched military" you might see some naysaying from certain quarters regarding the effectiveness of the effort, perhaps bolstered by that unavoidable truism noted above. Time will tell.

More early stories give an indication of the enormity of the task, and the initial chaos confronting those responsible for coordinating the effort:

The Shreveport (La) Times:
State's military presence aids in storm relief
While some Guard members fight in Iraq, others battle elements.
August 30, 2005

Though thousands of its members are half a world away, gearing up in Iraq to begin their journey home from war, the Louisiana Army National Guard this week is tackling its other primary mission, disaster relief.

It's no surprise. In June long before the 2005 hurricane season shifted into overdrive, the state military's second-in-command, Brig. Gen. Hunt Downer, told The Times the Louisiana Army National Guard was practiced and ready to handle the big storms.

"We have enough troops remaining here in the state," Downer said. "We've always done that. And as in all cases, we move troops around to meet where the need's going to be. Not many really appreciate and understand the uniqueness of the National Guard, (that) we have a dual mission."
Sidebar to same story:
Barksdale Air Force Base (Greyhawk notes: in Shreveport, La.) has been tagged to be the Federal Mobilization Center for Hurricane Katrina relief by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA representatives started arriving Saturday. The base's East Gate is now reserved for official FEMA and commercial vehicles only -- all other traffic, including all privately owned vehicles, must use alternate gates. Visitors entering the base should also allow extra time as increased traffic is expected, base officials said.
Flooding Forces Relocation Of National Guard's New Orleans Command Center

By Joseph R. Chenelly, Times staff writer

NEW ORLEANS — The rescuers had to be rescued early into Hurricane Katrina relief operations as sudden flooding forced the Louisiana National Guard to airlift 150 troops out of its command center here.

The flooding wiped out the Joint Force Headquarters on Monday night as Black Hawk helicopters moved the troops 10 miles away to the Louisiana Superdome, where they re-established the command center.

The troops quickly rejoined rescue efforts. At daylight Tuesday the extent of the havoc wreaked on the region began to come into focus even as levies continued to fail and water continued to rise. Soldiers carved their way through the city by boats, trucks and Humvees, while National Guard helicopters kept noisily busy in air rescues.

All brought a steady stream of civilians in from the devastation to the Superdome, the massive arena in the heart of downtown. As of Tuesday night, at least 11,000 people were taking refuge in there. Civilians were not being allowed to leave the Superdome, which was without main power or air-conditioning as temperatures hit 95 degrees Tuesday.

Still, civilians continued to flow into the shelter as flood waters made their homes inhabitable.

Since Saturday, at least two have died in the dome and two have been born there, said Guard spokesman Maj. Ed Bush. The deaths were believed to have been caused by pre-existing conditions, he said.

The Joint Force Headquarters working out of the Superdome is responsible for coordinating the thousands of soldiers and other service members responding to one of the worst natural disasters to hit the United States in generations.

The relocated center, operating on emergency generators, is relying on radio communications only, as the hurricane has rendered all land-line and cellular phones useless within the city.
Marines Rescue Stranded Hurricane Victims

By Christian Lowe and Christopher Munsey, Times staff writers

Marines rescued more than 100 people stranded by the destruction of Hurricane Katrina Monday after tides and high winds pummeled cities along the Gulf of Mexico coast.

Leathernecks with the Reserve’s reinforced 3rd Platoon, Alpha Company, 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion, based in Gulfport, Miss., navigated the debris-filled streets of Biloxi late Aug. 29, plucking dazed citizens from their battered homes.

About 130 people were rescued by the Marines, who drove two AAV7 Amphibious Assault Vehicles through the destruction.

The amtrackers took the flood victims “to a designated drop-off point where they were returned to safety by civilian authorities,” according to a news release from Naval Construction Battalion Center Gulfport. One amtrac in the operation rescued 100 people, making four trips with 25 victims crammed into the crew compartment, a Navy spokeswoman said.

Navy Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalions 1, 7 and 133 — based in Gulfport — are clearing a 10-mile-long stretch of road to the nearby town of Pass Christian so civilian authorities could rescue stranded citizens there, the spokeswoman said.
Two U.S. Navy Destroyers Damaged in Storm

Two U.S. Navy destroyers were damaged when Hurricane Katrina struck their Mississippi shipyard Aug. 29, but by the following afternoon, the most serious damage had been repaired.

“There was some damage and flooding on the Kidd,” a Navy source told “When the ship rose up, it banged up against the pier, causing a small gash which caused some flooding.”

But Brian Cullin, a spokesman for Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, said Aug. 30 the damage had been made good.

“Northrop Grumman welders ballasted up the ship and got access to the breach,” Cullin said. “They were able to weld it and it was repaired and made watertight.”

The Forrest Sherman, another destroyer under construction at Northrop’s Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., also suffered some damage, a Navy source said, when a drifting barge bumped into the ship. The barge came to rest on a pier without puncturing the side of the warship.

The Sherman’s crew of about 300 sailors rode out the storm on the ship, tied to a pier along with the Kidd, whose crew has yet to move aboard.
The Washington Post notes that America's veterans aren't forgotten either:
Armed Forces Retirement Home Opens Doors To Displaced Brethren

By Michael E. Ruane, Washington Post Staff Writer

They got extra beds from storage, aired out unoccupied rooms and opened up an unused dormitory. Floors were mopped, bathrooms scrubbed and light bulbs replaced.

There was a buzz yesterday among residents at the Armed Forces Retirement Home on North Capitol Street and a sense of urgency among the staff: Company was coming. Lots of it.

Officials of the Northwest Washington retirement facility learned it was getting as many as 416 new residents from its storm-damaged sister home in Gulfport, Miss., which was rendered uninhabitable by Hurricane Katrina.

Most of the newcomers would be making the 1,000-mile trip aboard 10 chartered buses, which were scheduled to leave Gulfport last night, officials said. The buses were to arrive in Washington late today or sometime tomorrow, after at least one overnight in the Atlanta area.

"We get them up here, we're going to get them comfortable," said Chuck Dickerson, chief of resident services at the historic Washington home that houses about 1,000 retirees. "We're going to give them the medical care they need. We're going to get them a bed. We're going to get them a shower. We're going to feed them. We're going to take care of them, because they're ours."
GXonline - an online magazine of the National Guard, has numerous reports. Here are just a couple of them.
Guard, NORTHCOM Respond to Hurricane Aftermath
Twenty-four hours after Hurricane Katrina battered the Gulf Coast, an estimated 7,500 National Guard troops from Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi were on duty today, supporting civil authorities, distributing generators, providing medical care, and setting up shelters for displaced residents.

In addition, National Guard units and members in 17 more states were on standby, ready to provide assistance as required in the wake of extensive damage, rising floodwaters, and power and communications outages throughout the region, Air Force LTC Ellen Krenke, a DoD spokeswoman, said.

AR Guard Mobilizes 350 Troops for Disaster Relief in MS

8/29/05, Camp Joseph T. Robinson, AR – At the direction of the governor, the Arkansas National Guard has called approximately 350 personnel to state active duty to assist with hurricane relief efforts in Mississippi. An Arkansas National Guard Task Force is scheduled to begin deploying Tuesday to an initial staging area at Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg, Miss., and is expected to be mobilized for 10 to 14 days, or longer as needed.
Meanwhile, Keesler AFB, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in the direct path of the storm, has this announcement on their home page:
Keesler Air Force base has survived a direct hit by a Hurricane Katrina a Category 4 hurricane. Initial assessment shows extensive damage to our industrial and housing areas. We are deploying assessment crews and are in contact with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and with commanders of many military bases who have offered assistance. The damage is severe enough that we are unable to leave our shelters until Thursday at the earliest in order to assure our recovery teams have cleared debris and made it safe for us and our families to return home. Brigadier General Lord and your leadership promises to keep you apprised of the progress of our recovery teams and release you to go home and assess your own damage as soon as it is safe for your family to travel. All pets at the Keesler pet shelter are in good health and weathered this extremely dangerous storm safely. We are doing everything within our power to clear the way and provide the best immediate and long term assistance to help each one of us in order to recover from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Brigadier General Lord wants you to know we are not alone and will do everything we can to keep you safe and get you home as soon as possible. Please be patient. We all need to pull together and help us all make it through this difficult time safely.
Keesler is predominantly a training base, but is ironically also the home of the Air Force Reserve's Hurricane Hunters, who fly specially modified C130 aircraft into off-shore hurricanes to obtain vital measurements on intensity and position for the National Hurricane Center. Their aircraft were most likely re-located to inland locations well prior to landfall.

More to come. In the meantime, Glenn Reynolds has a list of charities if you're inclined to help the relief efforts.

(Pre-post update: after completing this but just prior to posting, this example from the Washington Post dashes any hope that politics could be left out of the relief efforts. On their online front page the link to this story reads War Strains Military's Ability to Help.)