Since Hurricane Katrina roared ashore, National Guard troops from Gulf Coast states serving in Iraq have followed the disaster, worried about families and friends back home.
“It’s a significant emotional event. Their families are on the forefront of the disaster,” said Lt. Col. Jordan Jones of the 141st Field Artillery of the Louisiana National Guard.
“They’re all watching TV, and some have seen their neighborhoods completely submerged in water.”
Jones, from Luling, La., on the southwest bank of Lake Pontchartrain, said he hadn’t been in touch with his family for three days because of clogged phone lines, but that his neighbors had helped board up his family’s home.
“It’s hard. A lot of soldiers are watching this play-by-play; they’re having a hard time,” said Lt. Taysha Deaton, a spokeswoman for the unit.
The 141st Field Artillery, which arrived in the Middle East about a year ago, is based at Camp Liberty, a converted palace complex of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s near the Baghdad airport.
The 400-member unit, which is expected to be rotated out soon, has had one soldier killed and several wounded during its deployment.
“We’re fixing to go home anyway, and now this happens,” said Deaton, 25, whose home in Lake Charles, La., was not in the path of the storm.
Most Americans identify the National Guard with providing emergency services during natural disasters. But over the last three years, units have been sent to Iraq to fight alongside regular forces.
Asked how his troops felt being in Iraq while their state was in such difficulty, Jones replied: “Well, we all know our primary mission is the federal one.
“The secondary mission is to serve at the pleasure of the governor in disaster relief and other missions,” said Jones, 44, who works for a company that manages the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
National Guard troops in Louisiana have been busy rescuing people from the deluge.
In other Gulf Coast states, more than 1,600 Mississippi National Guard troops were activated to help with the hurricane recovery, and the Alabama National Guard was planning to send two battalions to Mississippi, the hardest-hit area.