07 September 2005

Day 6

Well, crud. I have almost no battery life. Twice today I thought I had turned my PowerBook off when in fact I had only put it to sleep. The sun was too bright to see the screen, so I couldn’t tell. So this may well be a very short entry.

All of 2nd Platoon (including me) who hadn’t gone on any missions yet got to do so today. We went down near the Convention Center on the river (where there is parked a short Navy helicopter carrier) and sent out trucks one, two and three at a time on various missions in support of the Louisiana State Police. Police forces from various other states were there as well, including some from California, New Mexico, and Illinois. There’s something wrong in the world when police are more heavily armed than the military. A local cop told us that the shooting and violence had calmed down considerably once the National Guard arrived with their M-16s and automatic weapons Apparently people aren’t afraid of shooting at cops, but soldiers are another matter.

The missions were of various types, but most of them were to pick up refugees. I went on one to clear 911 calls from days ago, and we picked up one very old man. I reiterate from previously: New Orleans is trashed. I haven’t seen any flooded areas yet, but even the areas that only got direct storm damage are pretty bad. New Orleans is obviously a very beautiful city; I’ve never seen anything like it. Nowhere did I see what could be called a “typical” neighborhood. The Crescent City obviously prides itself on its interesting culture and architecture. But that beauty was hard to see today. Windows broken out, brick walls fallen over, power lines down everywhere (we posted a guard on the back of the truck to ensure that no power lines caught on the truck—they were to warn the driver if any were too low), many many trees broken, bent or uprooted, and tons and tons of debris. Oh, and cars up on bricks taken from fallen walls with all their tires and rims missing. The evacuees were delivered to the Convention Center (I hear it is absolutely disgusting inside from the time when it was a refugee center) where they are processed and put on a helicopter. Apparently, they are then taken to Chicago, presumably by plane.

Oh, a note on helicopters, while I’m at it. Okay, two. First, what I’ve been calling a Jolly Green Giant apparently isn’t. According to a former Marine, it is a Sea Stallion. My mistake. Second, I am positive I saw Marine One today. Well, okay, Marine Two: someone mentioned that the VP had been tasked to assess the damage for the President. But it was that same green and white “United States of America” helicopter that we always see on West Wing. It landed at the Convention Center, then took off and spiraled around and around until it was out of sight.

Anyway, that was the only mission I went on today; for the rest of the day I stayed back at the little base camp the police had set up and sent out missions and kept track of what trucks were where. Most of the missions that went out were full of heavily armed policemen who were sent to strongly persuade residents to evacuate, the Governor having issued a mandatory evacuation for fear of disease and gas leaks, etc. However, for all their armament, I did not hear of any cases where residents were actually forced out of their homes. If they could not be persuaded, they were left, and their addresses were written down.

Some trucks came back festooned with Mardi Gras beads (one with a fake baby alligator tied to the hood). Apparently, they went down a street (Burbon Street perhaps? I really don’t know) where these beads were all over thee trees, so they grabbed some. Well, a lot.

Darn. At this point my power died. Let’s see if I can remember what else I was going to say.

Did I mention the fire? No? At one point during the day huge clouds of black smoke came billowing out of downtown. The scuttlebutt is that this is happening regularly, when power is turned back on and short-circuited wiring catches fire.

Late in the afternoon, just before we left, I saw something I’d never imagined I’d see: a convoy of 30 ambulances, lights flashing, go down the street in front of me and get on the Interstate.

OH! I almost forgot to mention: We moved again. Yes, again. While we were off on the mission, we heard that we were going to move again, and that the rest of the company would have been moved by the time we got back. When we got back, the trucks went the wrong way, toward the old location instead of the new one. When we got to the old location, we found most of the trucks, but almost none of the personnel there. This was confusing, as they were all supposed to be gone. Since I happened to be in the Humvee the Lieutenant was in, I got to go with him to the new location while everyone else waited to see what was going on. Turned out that they had just sent everyone back for the trucks, because they had spent all day putting up tents (nice brand new ones, like I mentioned; a model most old soldiers have never seen before. A lot like the old GP-Mediums, but with metal Y-posts, mosquito netting most of the way around, and large doors on three sides. And vinyl, for those that only remember the really old cotton duck GP-Mediums.) and figuring out where the trucks were supposed to go. We are now set up right next to the runway from which all those planes and helicopters I mentioned earlier are taking off. We now have to walk each individual truck in from the road outside the airbase area (not the whole post; just the Air National Guard airbase area on post) which takes an incredibly long time when you’ve got tens of trucks to park. So far we have moved every single night since we arrived in New Orleans, each time closer to the airport. Tomorrow, we speculate, we will be moved to the end of the runway so that every plane will pass directly overhead. Sometimes I wonder whether there’s a little man in an office somewhere giggling and rubbing his hands together wondering what he will do to us next. I’m sure it’s all for some good reason. Well, kicking us out because both us and 1st Cav were promised the same area isn’t a good reason, but it is a reason. Hey, it doesn’t matter: We have a permanent place to live. We have tents, and cots, and maybe tomorrow electricity. Most importantly, I hopefully will no longer have to pack up my gear every morning. I don’t mind living out of our trucks; it’s kind of nice in several ways. But packing up every bit of your gear into the back of another truck every morning only to bring it all out every night gets old quickly. It’s hard to get to your more buried gear that way, because you don’t dare unpack everything when you’re only going to have to pack it again either that night or very quickly the following morning.

RUMOR: There are between 10,000 and 30,000 dead in New Orleans.

• We should be getting weapons soon.
• A soldier got injured last night by falling off the step of a truck onto her head on the asphalt. She was conscious and making sense when the medics took her away; hopefully she’ll be alright. I’m not going to post her name, if I do at all, until we know what her status is and give her a chance to notify her family. Those that need to know will be told, don’t worry.

On a related note: I’m really not sure how I feel about posting other soldiers’ names here. On the one hand, there are privacy issues, but on the other, I’m sure that relatives would be pleased to see their soldier’s name appear here. Does anyone have any thoughts on the subject?



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