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CG response a highlight of Katrina anniversary

KristiLangenbachermug

Kristi Langenbacher

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Kristi Langenbacher
Columnist

Sunday, September 2, 2018

When many people think of the Coast Guard, they envision helicopters hovering over floodwaters and rescuing people from rooftops. Those images filled television news broadcasts, newspaper and magazines as a result of the Coast Guard’s response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. For many, those images were the first they had seen of the Coast Guard in action.

This week marked the 13th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation on the southeast, and the Coast Guard’s impressive and unforgettable response.

I remember well the Coast Guard’s nation-wide preparation for and response to the storm. The Coast Guard pre-staged air assets in Texas, Florida, and North Carolina. Many active duty members from Elizabeth City, and all around the country, tirelessly worked to prepare for the hurricanes arrival. Many members from the area traveled to the Gulf Coast after it hit.

My husband was first stationed in Elizabeth City in 2004, and our family had been there a little over a year when Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Spouses stayed behind and gathered together to watch the events unfold on television. The Elizabeth City Coast Guard Spouses Club began a flurry of action to support Coast Guard members and families living in the affected areas as well as those responding to the disaster.

We packed boxes upon boxes of supplies for emergency responders, including new socks and t-shirts, blankets, water, hand sanitizer and snacks. Coast Guard children decorated hand-made cards for victims of the storm and those working round-the-clock to rescue them. We also welcomed families who had been evacuated from the area – many of whom ended up staying in the area for several months.

Coast Guard men and women from across the nation performed what remains one of the largest search and rescue missions in the nation’s history, involving units from every district. The service used its aviation and boat crews to rescue more than 24,000 people and conduct nearly 3,000 rooftop rescues. Members also worked in the joint-agency evacuation of nearly 9,500 patients and medical personnel from healthcare facilities in the devastated areas.

The Coast Guard also provided waterway reconstitution, environmental assessments, facility damage assessments, emergency repairs and established temporary operational and support facilities throughout the disaster area. The service continued response work for well over a year.

In 2006, President George W. Bush awarded the Coast Guard the Presidential Unit Citation, the highest honor bestowed to a military unit. Citing the thousands of Coast Guard personnel who served in the response effort, Bush described the operation as “one of the finest hours in the Coast Guard’s 216-year history.” Bush went on to say that, “When Americans were at their most desperate, they looked to the skies for help, and they knew their prayers were answered when they saw the rescue choppers from the United States Coast Guard.”

Earlier this week, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral Karl Schultz, reflected on the service’s response to Hurricane Katrina on his official Facebook page.

“When disaster strikes, we are there. The U.S. Coast Guard has a bias for action, and we stand ready to protect the American people no matter the threat,” Schultz said. “The lessons learned from this tragic event helped shape our response efforts in the historic 2017 Hurricane Season… Semper Paratus, ‘Always Ready,’ is more than a motto. It’s our purpose.”

Kristi Langenbacher is a Coast Guard spouse and writes about military family life.

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