Friday, October 07, 2005

The Guard and Katrina Relief

Hopefully a decent night of sleep will allow me to be more dispassionate than when I dashed off last night's rant. I intend on offering a bit of a critique of the Guard and the response to Hurricane Katrina.

First, a note on timing. The National Guard Bureau had sent out it's version of "calling all cars" on August 31, 2005. The National Guard of every State, Territory, Commonwealth and the District of Columbia was put into motion. I, myself, was at my armory and ready on September 2nd - and I was part of the second wave of troops heading into LA or MS. Anyone saying that the decision to put troops into the situation was too slow is simply wrong.

When my unit arrived at the Naval Air Station/Joint Reserve Base - New Orleans on September 8, 2005 we found three things; supplies pouring in faster than they could be received or even moved away from the airfield, a mix of every branch of the Armed Forces and Coast Guard, and everyone rushing to get things done without the clearest of direction.

My unit was supposed to solve the first problem, support everyone in the second situation, and help the Louisiana National Guard solve the third situation. We managed the first very well, the second mostly so, and the third only so-so.

Our supply and services, transportation, and plans folks worked their butts off and moved mountains of food, water, fuel and other items to every place that needed it. In fact, we pushed out so much food and water, that units were asking us to stop after a couple of weeks.

A complication with the mix of forces was not just that we had Army National Guard and Air National Guard present* but that we had active component forces involved. The Navy was terrific - they were the lead service in the full time garrison of the base we were on, and they never did anything but help. However, when we worked with the Active Army and Marines, they had their own, parallel, support channels. The active forces worked from different funding sources, had different requirements for reporting, and frankly, a different mind set than the Guard. I feel that we never did succeed in meshing with the active forces, as far as support went. Operationally, I understand that things went well enough.


The biggest problem was trying to unite "54 little armies" (as one LTC described the poly-state Guard mix) under a single command, and with a single direction. Each State's command authority (Governor and Adjutant General) was the ultimate say so on when units came and went. When we ended up with too many transportation units, for example, some were withdrawn by their State. We struggled to keep up with what units were present and who was commanding or supporting which units. The only cure for this is going to be multi-state training exercises and staff planning. That is going to be hard work for the National Guard Bureau and all of us out in the states.

If the Guard committed one error, it was bringing in too many forces at first. Erring on the side of caution is forgivable, but having too many units in place led to underemployment and affected some people's morale. I was actually more frustrated in Louisiana than in Afghanistan. The solution for this is better training in what we once called "Battle Damage Assessment", and better staff workg on force structure planning.

I hope this doesn't come across as too negative. As I have mentioned before, self criticism and improvement is a big reason the US Army is the quality force it is today. Overall, Operation Crescent Relief has worked out well. I just don't want the next, similar effort to repeat our mistakes or headaches.


*I must say that I had a terrific experience with the Air Guard this operation. In 1993, during the Mississippi flood relief, they were not so easy to deal with. I have to give them their due, however.

5 Comments:

Blogger Mighty Quinn said...

Thanks so much for sharing your insights. In an age where every news source seems to have a bias (left, right or just plain wrong) it is wonderful to get an honest, first-hand account from a trusted source who actually saw what was going on. Only with accurate information can one make good decisions.

And in turth, your description is far from negative - sounds like it went off far better than I'd imagined. Great job!

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Ginnis11B said...

Illinois Nasty Guard leads the way!!

9:52 PM  
Blogger Major John said...

ginnis, I was going to delete your comment. However, I would rather refer you to the following link...

http://www4.army.mil/ocpa/print.php?story_id_key=8030

Perhaps you just need a bit of education.

1:23 PM  
Blogger Inner Prop said...

I want to add a couple of things that I saw.

I attended a couple of Liason Officer meetings with the main Guard operational command in the NOLA area and I was not aware of any LNO (Liason Officer (don't ask me where the N came from and don't get me started on dumb acronyms) from the Active side.

There was operational difficulty keeping track of who was there, leaving and/or coming. This was through no fault of their staff, but because there was insufficient communication between the 54 little armies.

There were maybe two weeks when the Guard side of the project could not use all available communication assets because of frequency management bourne of the split Active/Reserve command. I wasn't privy to the other side of the house, but I will bet that they had similar problems.

In many cases that I am aware of the LA folks too readily gave up authority to anyone who showed the inclination to take it. Yes they were overwhelmed, but I didn't see any effort to regain authority once normalacy began to return. This was in my limited experience, but I got the "feeling" that it was a general mindset.

I second the mention that the Air Guard was extremely helpful and wonderful hosts.

8:23 PM  
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11:11 AM  

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