U.S. Northern Command Element Helps Save Lives in New Orleans

By Maj. Steve Osterholzer | September 13, 2005

NAVAL AIR STATION NEW ORLEANS – A command element from U.S. Northern Command that deployed here from Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., is coordinating the rescue efforts of the thousands of active duty forces that have rushed into New Orleans to save lives.

USNORTHCOM’s Standing Joint Force Headquarters left Colorado with the mission of synchronizing Department of Defense assets in support of rescue and recovery efforts. The organization was fully ready to deploy within six hours of notification and flew on military aircraft to New Orleans.

“One of the primary reasons behind having a Standing Joint Force Headquarters is to rapidly deploy a command element that is fully trained and mission-capable when they hit the ground,” said Col. Powl Smith, head of the Information Synchronization Team. “We were able to rapidly put boots on the ground in New Orleans three hours after takeoff to help the people of this proud city.”

Air Force Brig. Gen. “Punch” Moulton leads the unit, which is made up of about 50 military and government personnel representing all of the services. The staff includes experts on virtually all aspects of air, land, and sea operations.

“Our top priority is saving lives,” Moulton told his troops on the day they arrived in Louisiana. “We must quickly coordinate search and rescue operations to save as many people as possible during this tragedy.

"We will spare no effort to save our fellow Americans.”

In the next several days, the unit brought together leaders of all active duty forces in the area and began to coordinate an effective rescue operation.

"Before we arrived, there were many great Americans doing incredibly heroic things to save our fellow citizens," Moulton said. "The challenge was to coordinate these efforts to harness the full power of the military in supporting the first responders."

Planners and operations officers from all the services, along with government officials and Department of Homeland Security agencies gathered around a table to coordinate their efforts.

"We took the Coast Guard and National Guard helicopter rescue operations and integrated them with the Marines on the ground rescuing people in their watercraft," said Air Force Col. Joe Sokol, who led the planning team. "Simultaneously, we integrated the paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division, the Air Force and the Navy ships offshore. It really was a ’one team, one fight’ concept in action."

With the initial coordination complete, Standing Joint Force Headquarters received a new critical mission and handed off future coordination efforts to elements of the 5th Army Headquarters deployed to the Gulf Coast region. The unit transitioned to a new mission of working with civil authorities, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and DHS in planning the restoration and reconstruction of the greater New Orleans area.

"I’m really proud of our team," Moulton said. "We were able to rapidly deploy from Colorado Springs to effectively coordinate rescue operations on the ground and in the air. We came here to save lives; it happened because of the heroic actions of the troops in the air, on the boats, and slogging through the water.

"This is America at its best: Americans helping Americans in their hour of need."