In their own words...

85th Civil Support Team Supports

Hurricane Katrina Relief Effort in Louisiana

 

Written by Capt. Dean Roberts, Lt. Col. Wendy Cline

 and Maj. David Peterson

Published October 3, 2005

       

 

Flooding in downtown New Orleans encountered by members of the 85th Civil Support Team after Hurricane Katrina.

Photo by 85th Civil Support Team

Flooding in downtown New Orleans encountered by members

of the 85th Civil Support Team after Hurricane Katrina.

This description was provided by Capt. Dean Roberts, officer in charge of the 85th Civil Support Team's advance party who left Utah Sept. 1 for Louisiana to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

NEW ORLEANS The first tactical element from the Utah National Guard to be on the ground in support of Hurricane Katrina was a portion of the communications and operations section from the newly formed 85th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team (WMD CST), based in West Jordan.

Team members Capt. Dean Roberts, Master Sgt. Darren Budge and Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Parker drove over 31 straight hours in their state-of-the-art command and control vehicle to arrive in New Orleans Sept. 3.

These members of the 85th and their equipment are currently deployed to some of the most difficult rescue and recovery areas in

Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Parker next to the Louisiana Superdome in downtown New Orleans shortly after Katrina victims were moved to other locations.

Photo by 85th Civil Support Team

Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Parker next to the Louisiana

Superdome in downtown New Orleans shortly after

Katrina victims were moved to other locations.

the hard-hit Gulf Coast states. They brought with them just a sampling of the newest technology fielded to the team during this past year.

Their command vehicle, normally designed to support local first responders during a response to a terrorist act, includes the best of both military and civil communications and command assets.  This equipment is ideal for assisting with this type of response and helps to fill a potential communications gap between military elements and local, state, and federal first-responder agencies. 

All the assets, personnel and training of the 85th CST represent some of the best consequence-management—i.e. after the incident—tools currently available throughout the nation. Just this one 85th CST vehicle alone supporting operations in Louisiana has the ability to bring together the right people to right place at the right time.

 

Satellite communications set up by members of the 85th Civil Support Team, Utah National Guard, in New Orleans.

Photo by 85th Civil Support Team

Satellite communications set up by members of the 85th Civil Support Team, Utah National Guard, in New Orleans.

The remainder of the 85th arrived in New Orleans Sept. 17 to support the 62nd Civil Support Team, Louisiana National Guard. This letter from Lt. Col. Wendy Cline, commander of the 85th, was written to spouses of Airmen and Soldiers in the unit deployed to Louisiana in support of Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

NEW ORLEANS I am finally able to get through to you and share how incredible our experience down here in the Bayou has been.

We managed to go through three C-5 aircraft and finally resort to a drive from Memphis to arrive in New Orleans last Saturday. Since that time the team has been running full speed.

We have heard horrific tales from the locals.  We have seen, smelled and been in awe of the tremendous devastation that is so widespread.  Our first-responder counterparts are so tired but also very strong and resilient.  They have lost everything and continue to work day after day.  

Soldiers and Airmen of the 85th Civil Support Team prepare to enter a building to survey potential hazardous materials in New Orleans.

Photo by 85th Civil Support Team

Soldiers and Airmen of the 85th Civil Support Team prepare to enter a building to survey potential hazardous materials in New Orleans.

We have been so humbled in serving here and our new Louisiana friends are extremely grateful to have your husbands here helping out. Their gratitude is overwhelming! 

As you all know, Katrina wiped out the infrastructure throughout New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.  Repopulating parishes (counties) and cities requires a huge coordinated effort, and we are assisting in the recovery of essential services so the locals can return home.

Our mission yesterday brought four different state survey teams together at Charity Hospital in downtown New Orleans. This was the first ever “Joint CST Operation” between several states.

In our protective suits we entered the facility and cleared the building of hazardous chemicals so that follow-on teams could enter and safely perform recovery operations. 

As you all know, our specialists in air, water and ground are working with the EPA and public-health officials to ensure that the local populace will be safe.

Members of the 85th Civil Support Team pose with an overturned van damaged by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Photo by 85th Civil Support Team

Members of the 85th Civil Support Team next to an

 overturned van damaged by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

The exciting part for us is that we are shaping the future for use of CSTs in natural disasters and not just during a WMD event.  We were originally designed to test for chemical, biological and nuclear hazards during a terrorist attack.  In response to Katrina we have quickly adapted our mission to the changed circumstances.

We have shown that our communications capability is also invaluable. The storm surge, wind, rain and subsequent flooding wiped out all power and communications.

On Sept. 6 we sent Capt. Roberts, Master Sgt. Budge and our infamous Sgt. 1st  Class to Louisiana to help set up communications between local civil authorities, FEMA and the military.

There were no land lines, nor were there any cell phone towers.  We found that communication remains our biggest weakness at the most critical time, immediately following the disaster. 

A sample of the damage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina in the New Orleans area.

Photo by 85th Civil Support Team

A sample of the damage inflicted by

Hurricane Katrina in the New Orleans area.

Let me finish by saying that despite all the moving around, from the New Orleans Saints training facility to the fifth floor of a hospital, we are all eating exceptionally well.  A sod farmer from Alabama has fed the responders in our area of operation around the clock at his own expense—about $20,000 a day.  We rarely go without a good steak and some “Bubba Gump” shrimp.

The generosity of Americans is inspiring. The best part about being down here is that we are all here with an extended family of CSTers taking care of each other and our new friends. 

We regret missing the most important things going on in our families and being with all of you.  Hang in there and take good care of one other.

IWe know you are providing super care for our families and appreciate the hard work. We are all doing great things and will return home soon.  We miss you all.

Members of the 85th Civil Support Team pose with Lt. Gen.  Russel Honore (in light-colored uniform), the senior U.S. Army officer involved in Katrina relief.

Photo by Capt. Dean Roberts, 85th Civil Support Team

Members of the 85th Civil Support Team pose with Lt. Gen.

 Russel Honore (in light-colored uniform), the senior

U.S. Army officer involved in Katrina relief.

In a communication with Utah National Guard officials, Maj. David Peterson, deputy commander of the 62nd Civil Support Team, Louisiana National Guard, praised the 85th Civil Support Team for their professionalism and performance.

NEW ORLEANS Capt. Dean Roberts and his crew, Master Sgt Budge and Sgt. 1st Class Parker, rolled into the Superdome and said they were here to help.  Having been in the Superdome for several days, the appearance of outside assistance was a breath of fresh air (literally, since we all stank from not having bathed in days.)

Capt. Roberts and his crew immediately set out to assist in making recons and assessments of the affected areas around New Orleans.  Lt. Col. Knotts gave him marching orders and guidance and he executed perfectly.  The reports provided by the Utah CST team were succinct and exact in their assessments.  This helped us expand our operation from a single-state entity to the Joint Task Force-Civil Support Louisiana. 

Furthermore, when the Utah team arrived in the area of operations, the advance team was able to quickly spin up the main body, and the Utah team performed exemplary in all tasks and duties assigned.  The professionalism, confidence, and organizational savvy displayed by the entire team was remarkable.

Please pass on to whoever may be interested that there is special thanks due to Capt. Roberts and his advance team.   They were very helpful in those crucial hours when we were evacuating the citizens of New Orleans.  The state of Utah is indeed fortunate to have such professional and dedicated soldiers.