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From the Front, New Orleans
Discussion Board on this Respect item
New Orleans, September 3rd, 2005
I just returned from New Orleans on a hurricane relief mission in the
C-130. Let me just start by saying I was awed. Not in what I saw in destruction
and devastation because I had/have already seen enough of that on TV. What
really hit me hard was the absolute determination and
willingness of all
those involved in the relief effort. I just want to quickly tell you what I was
a part of and what I witnessed as it just really filled me with pride and
reminded me again why we are such an amazing and successful country.
started when I showed up for the flight in Nashville. Instead of the flight
planning I would normally do (the other pilot did it), I wastasked to call all
60 or so of the pilots from the 105th Airlift Squadron (my squadron) and find
out their availability to fly hurricane reliefmissions. Now, don't forget these
are all Air National Guard men and women and most all have full time jobs
outside of flying for the Guard.
Almost without exception, every pilot
offered whatever assistance was needed. No surprise. I then jumped in the
airplane and flew directly to New Orleans Int'l, which was and is only open to
relief efforts. We had on board with us an aero medical evacuation team. They
are a group of
highly trained nurses and med techs that are qualified in
evacuating wounded and sick soldiers from the battlefield and keeping them alive
enroute to a medical facility.
One of the many missions of the C-130 is
basically a flying hospital. We can literally set up and intensive care unit in
the back if needed. So, with our team of aero meds and flight crew on board, we
set course for New Orleans with the rough idea that we would transport injured
and sick people to Elington Field, TX (Houston, TX). From there we would
to Alexandria, LA, Charlotte, and then back to Nashville. Our mission ended up
evacuating one of the VA hospitals' patients as well as several
The weather was not great once we neared New Orleans. We made
it in and were met by an airport SUV that led us to what is normally an airline
passenger gate. The difference was the gates housed medical teams (mainly
military that had just arrived) and scores of sick refugees
(for lack of
better term). We squeezed ourselves into a parking spot perpendicular to a C-141
and next to two C-17's. There were other Air Force planes on the ground as well.
By the time we finally left, five other C-130's and another C-17 had joined
What happened next just really made my heart well with pride. From
every direction and in about 15 to 45 second intervals, helicopter after
helicopter continued to land right next to us. It was a mix of Army Blackhawks,
Coast Guard helicopters as well as Marine and Army. They were joined by what
must have been 15 "Flight for Life" helicopters from
hospitals all around the
Southeast. I saw Miami, Arkansas, and many other names painted on the sides.
This was not normal operations. These pilots were practically landing and taxing
on top of each other. They came in fully loaded with sick personnel. Many right
from the rooftops. One New Orleans Airport fireman took on the duty of aircraft
marshaller and marshaled in choppers left and right. The helos would unload and
then take right back off. It was not uncommon for a helicopter to be on the
ground less than two to three minutes and then blast back off. We were basically
parked in the triage area. These helicopters were
immediately met by ground
personnel who helped the people off the helos and if they couldn't walk, they
put them on a stretcher or just flat carried them.
What makes it so
extraordinary is when I realize that these ground personnel were just the
airport workers, airline employees, cart drivers, fireman, and then the staff of
all the emergency teams. It was amazing. They were not necessarily trained for
the jobs they were/are undertaking. They just stepped up to the plate and did
it. The tower
and ground controllers were coordinating airplanes and
helicopters like they had never imagined in their most terrible nightmares and
were doing a very good job of it.
There were literally so many
helicopters coming in and out of the triage area that I do not understand how
the tower guy could see through them all to control the planes once they landed.
The little baggage trailers and tugs that you normally see zipping around the
airport were being used to move survivors out to the airplanes. They can best be
described as mini ambulances.
The terminals at the airport were triage
and staging areas. The airport vehicles that are usually operated by airport
managers and security were leading airplanes and helicopters to newly created
Then the huge thunderstorm hit to make matters even worse.
Thunder, lightening, and driving rain pounded the airport and surrounding area
for over 1.5 hours. The helicopter pilots and crews never
Everyone was so determined and working with such purpose. I
literally watched this one helicopter bring people in a then leave again for
another load four times in the 1.5 hour long torrential rain storm. This pace
was not uncommon. Another thing that exemplified the
unselfishness of the
rescuers was this one old and worn out red and white helicopter. It looked like
something that does heavy lifting for construction up on mountains. Basically,
it did not look like one that was designed to carry people and conduct search
From all I can tell, it was just a privately owned helicopter
that the two pilots decided they were going to make work for this. I still
remember the pilot in the left seat. He just had on jeans, tennis shoes and some
kind of old shirt. He was a little overweight, but you could just see the
determination and purpose on his face as he brought that big helo in run after
run after run. Don't misinterpret what I am describing. The military guys were
doing this too, but I did not expect
this from some private company or
It just was incredible. Absolutely incredible. There is no
way the helos should have been flying in this weather. If this was just some
regular mission or training flight, you can bet your kids Super Play Station
that they would not have been flying. It would have been easier and probably
safer to floss a shark's teeth them to have gotten these guys to stop
The same thing went for everyone working to organize and evacuate
the sick, hurt, and elderly inside the airport. The process was a little slower
than ideal, but it is a massive undertaking not ever encountered by the agencies
initially put in charge. Long story short, the Air Force
medical teams got
in there and got the ball rolling. As we left, a medical evacuation command post
was coming on line, which will significantly speed up the process of bringing
people into the airport and them putting them on planes to fly
Another one of our Nashville C-130's was on the ground with us. They
received their patients first. Once they could not physically fit anymore on
their plane, they left and we took they next group. Our aero med team and flight
crew just started helping the people who could barely walk onto the plane and
assisted in the loading of stretchers.
Back to selflessness, we were also
joined by two doctors who had been assisting in all the relief efforts at Tulane
Hospital. They decided to go on the flight with us.
One was an MD in his
7th year of surgery residency and the other was an MD who worked full time at
Tulane hospital. They had been working nonstop since the hurricane. Another
resident MD told me how after the hurricane hit he had to go home and get some
sleep. He awoke to rising
water at his place, so he got in his kayak and
paddled down the street, past looting, which he said was very unnerving, and
into Tulane hospital where he has been
working ever since. The great
American spirit is indeed alive and well.
We ended up taking 20 patients
on litters (military for stretcher) and 31 people (not healthy at all) that
could sit up for a total of 51 to Elington Field, TX. We arrived there and were
met by what can only be described as an eye watering reception. We called the
field 20 minutes out and let them know we would be landing shortly and passed on
our patient information.
Well, let me tell you something. As we taxied in
I looked towards our parking spot and I must have counted 30 ambulances and a
line of hospital workers/volunteers with wheelchairs at the ready lined up 50
deep. There was another equally long line of paramedics with gurneys.
people had it together. We shut down engines and then watched as Elington's
smooth operation kicked into gear. The sickest of the sick were rushed to
hospitals. Everyone else was given food, cold drinks,
seen by a social
worker, doctor, and other specialists. Then, one of the head NASA people there
gave me his car to go to Jack in the Box to get food for the crew.
By this time we were running out of our 16 hour crew day and
we still had two more stops. Unfortunately, we couldn't get to it all as we had
to head right back to Nashville, but another crew picked up the mission. I will
be doing missions similar to this one tomorrow (Fri) and Saturday.
Guard Base (TN Air National Guard) is flying six of our eight or nine airplanes
out tomorrow in direct support of rescue operations. We plan on doing this for
the foreseeable future.
Overall, I cannot do justice to all the good I
saw today just by writing. I wanted to try though. Basically, the operation set
up down there at the New Orleans Airport is one eerily similar to that of
Baghdad Int'l airport when I was there for over eight months. Just a hive of
activity with people pushing their bodies and aircraft to the max. No one
complains, they just get the job done and worry about the rest
Every citizen of this country should be so proud of what their
fellow citizens are doing for each other. The pressure they are working under
knowing these sick and stranded people do not have time on their side is
unexplainable. Our country is one of great strength and determination. It is
evident in all the rescue and relief efforts that are taking place down there.
If the hard work and pure grit of all the
rescue and medical personnel I
witnessed today are of any indication of the eventual outcome of this
indescribable tragedy, then we are on the absolute fast track to
I just want to add one more thing. I did not write this all out
to highlight myself. In fact it is quite the contrary. I want all of you to know
the efforts that are being made from the individual level to the highest level
of government. Nothing is being held back. I just happen to fly an airplane from
one field to another and am very happy to do it.
Please say some extra
prayers for all of those suffering due to hurricane Katrina and for all of those
working to save lives and rebuild a city.