On August 29, 2005, the category three Hurricane Katrina made landfall, and in less than 48 hours the scope of that natural disaster overwhelmed Gulf Coast state and local response capabilities. When the category four Hurricane Rita made landfall on September 24, 2005, the regional situation deteriorated further. The Department of Defense (DOD) participated in an unprecedented disaster response effort in support of the lead federal agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) exercised its homeland defense responsibilities and established two disaster response Joint Task Forces: Katrina (JTF-K) commanded by 1st Army, Fort Gillem, Georgia; and Rita (JTF-R) commanded by 5th Army, Fort Sam Houston, Texas. The 1st Air Expeditionary Task Force (1AETF), Tyndall Air Force Base (AFB), Florida served as the supporting air component to both JTFs, with the 1st Air Force Commander serving as the Combined Force Air Component Commander (CFACC).
The following news item from AUSA News conveys the variety of DOD assistance to Katrina relief operations:
Joint Task Force Katrina set up Aug. 31 at Camp Shelby, Miss., as the Defense Department’s focal point to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s relief efforts along the Gulf Coast, Air Force Maj. Eric Butterbaugh, a U.S. Northern Command spokesman, confirmed today.
Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, 1st U.S. Army commander, will head the task force to coordinate DoD active-duty support for disaster relief efforts in the hurricane’s aftermath, much of it already under way or in the works.
Meanwhile, the number of National Guardsmen on duty in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida rose to almost 8,300 Aug. 31.
National Guard units and members in 17 more states remained on standby today, ready to provide assistance as required in the wake of extensive damage, rising floodwaters, and power and communications outages throughout the region, Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, a DoD spokeswoman, said.
The guardsmen remain under their respective governors’ control, which enables them to provide law-enforcement support in the affected regions — something the Posse Comitatus Act prohibits active-duty forces from doing within the United States. While under state control, the National Guard is not bound by Posse Comitatus, NORTHCOM officials explained.
While establishing Joint Task Force Katrina today, NORTHCOM was already providing or coordinating a full range of support involving active-duty forces and assets.
As of the morning of Aug. 31, four MH-53 Sea Stallion and two HH-60 Seahawk helicopters from USS Bataan were flying medical-evacuation and search-and-rescue missions in Louisiana, and Bataan’s hospital was preparing for possible use for medical support. Bataan, based out of Naval Station Ingleside, Texas, is in the waters off the Louisiana coast. High Speed Vessel Swift, also based at Ingleside, sailed to the waters off Louisiana to provide support, as well.
Three helicopters from the Army’s 3rd Corps, in Fort Hood, Texas, are in Baton Rouge, La., and two more in Mississippi to help with searches and rescues and damage assessments, NORTHCOM officials reported. In addition, five Air Force helicopters from the 920th Rescue Wing, from Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., and 347th Rescue Wing from Moody Air Force Base, Ga., are in Mississippi for search-and-rescue missions, officials said. These aircraft are capable of nighttime searches and rescues and also will transport FEMA assessment teams over the area to gather critical information for state and federal emergency managers.
Meanwhile, eight U.S. Transportation Command swift-water rescue teams, each with 14 members, were headed from California to Lafayette, La., today to rescue stranded civilians from flooded areas, NORTHCOM officials reported.
A wide range of other military members and assets were also bound for the Gulf Coast to provide more support, NORTHCOM officials reported.
The Iwo Jima Amphibious Readiness Group was preparing to sail from Norfolk, Va., loaded with disaster response equipment and was expected to reach the Louisiana coast in five days, officials said. The group consists of USS Iwo Jima, USS Shreveport, USS Tortuga and USNS Arctic.
The hospital ship USNS Comfort was preparing to leave Baltimore to bring medical assistance to the Gulf region and was expected to reach the area in seven days, officials said.
Plans were being made bring USS Grapple, a Navy rescue and salvage vessel, to the region to support maritime and underwater survey and salvage operations.
NORTHCOM also established federal operational staging areas at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.; Naval Air Station Meridian, Miss.; Barksdale Air Force Base, La.; Alexandria, La.; and Fort Polk, La., to expedite the movement of relief supplies and emergency personnel to affected areas, officials reported.
In addition, NORTHCOM liaisons are operating in Clanton, Ala.; Baton Rouge, La.; and Jackson, Miss., to coordinate efforts between the command, other DoD elements and FEMA.
Standing Joint Forces Headquarters North will provide an augmentation cell and its command-and-control vehicle to Joint Task Force Katrina, and JTF Civil Support will provide a joint planning augmentation cell, officials said.
Meanwhile, in Colorado Springs, Colo., NORTHCOM’s Joint Operations Center remains on 24-hour duty to expedite any additional requests for help from FEMA representatives, officials said.
Source: AUSA News web page, http://www.ausa.org/webpub/DeptHome.nsf/byid/CTON-6FUPLU, accessed 13 DEC 05.