Sept. 16, 2005 —
Soldiers of the National Guard’s 265th Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Polk, Louisiana are returning from a year-long deployment in Iraq. Rather than being greeted by the usual smiling faces and open arms, they are being greeted by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Enter Task Force Care, a group of volunteers who share a vision: to provide the Soldiers and their family members affected by the storm with shelter, food and any other supplies deemed necessary to supplement their lives.
“Many of these Soldiers are coming back to find that their home, their job or both have been destroyed,” said Task Force Care Commander Maj. Gen. Chip Long. “Hurricane Katrina has devastated the country and the Soldiers redeploying from Iraq and a good portion of them are going to require some sort of assistance.”
The assistance is a culmination of volunteer and Soldier contributions, ranging from financial aid to the distribution of clothing and food.
These individuals were evacuated from Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, due to flooding from Hurricane Katrina on August 30, 2005. They were transported by the Mississippi Air National Guard on a C17 to Kelly City Base USA.
“We are offering new and used clothing, dry goods, various foods, toiletries and other things to help them out until the insurance companies and other agencies catch up and are able to help these people out,” said Installation Chaplain (Col.) Jack Van Dyken. “We are also offering department store gift cards for the things we are unable to provide.”
In addition to the replacement of lost items, Soldiers are being given several options of what to do in terms of their military career.
“The Soldiers have the option of staying on active duty if they want, they can work with the state and the Adjutant General if they want and they can even help with the relief effort,” said Long.
Although the disaster left many of the Soldiers without their homes, the directors of Task Force Care are already addressing this issue.
“As of right now we have prepared housing for 260 families,” said Fort Polk Garrison Commander A. Wade Woolfrey.
Aside from aiding the Soldiers that have already returned, the Soldiers who have not yet returned from theater are being taken care of as well.
“We have a forward task force currently in Kuwait interviewing Soldiers to see if they are aware of the disaster and if they have made contact with their families,” said Woolfrey. “They are also providing counseling and making calls to ensure the comfort of the Soldier when they return home.”
According to Van Dyken, about 100 people a day are being given some sort of assistance at the main care center. As for the response, he reported an abundance of gratitude from all who are receiving aid.
“The volunteers just get tears in their eyes when they hear the amazing stories that some off these people have,” said Van Dyken. “They get a lot of hugs of appreciation that show just how badly the families needed a service like this.