Katrina: Louisiana Guard Returns From Iraq
After a combat tour in Iraq, about 800 Louisiana National Guard members will be returning home to help rebuild from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
About 2,500 Louisiana National Guard members have finished their yearlong combat mission in Iraq and are shipping home, with top priority given to about 500 soldiers most directly affected by Hurricane Katrina, the unitÃ¢€™s commander said Friday. The unit members are in Kuwait awaiting transport home, and Ã¢€œthe 500 most severely effected peopleÃ¢€ are scheduled to arrive back in Louisiana by Saturday night, Sept. 10, said Brig. Gen. John Basilica Jr., commander of the 256th Brigade Combat Team with the Louisiana Army National Guard.
Basilica spoke to Pentagon reporters Friday morning Eastern time in Washington via satellite from Kuwait. He said about 800 unit members Ã¢€œhave indicated they are interestedÃ¢€ in taking part in disaster-relief operations along the Louisiana coast, devastated by the Aug. 29 Category 4 hurricane that destroyed New Orleans and is believed to have killed thousands. About 1,500 unit members plan to leave active duty and return to civilian life, while another 200 remain undecided, Basilica said.
Ã¢€œThereÃ¢€™s certainly no negative connotation about the choice they might make about returning to their private lives,Ã¢€ Basilica said, noting that the unit has been on active duty 18 months, preparing for and undertaking its Iraq duties.
He said the unit is not being withdrawn from Iraq ahead of schedule because of the hurricane. Ã¢€œWe have completed our mission,Ã¢€ Basilica said. Ã¢€œItÃ¢€™s not like weÃ¢€™re leaving early.Ã¢€ What has changed, he said, is that the Defense Department is placing a higher priority on finding transport aircraft for unit members, who are currently at staging bases in Kuwait, he said.
Army and defense officials have given Ã¢€œunprecedented supportÃ¢€ to those unit members affected by the hurricane, Basilica said. For example, the out-processing center in Kuwait includes information about new temporary housing arrangements for those whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Katrina. In light of the length of their combat tour, unit members are being allowed to decide for themselves whether they want to remain mobilized to take part in disaster-relief missions, Basilica said.
Hell of a homecoming. It’s good to see the Army prioritizing the return of these particular soldiers, though.