Sunday, February 11, 2018

Coast Guard Heroes of New Orleans by Captain Robert Mueller

Why I Read It: I've been studying and writing about Coast Guard history since 1996.

Summary: The surface operations undertaken by the Coast Guard in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

My Thoughts: As usual, there was much more to this story than meets the eye.

The problem is that the eye can only see what it can see; television news stations only cover what they want to cover. In this instance, with the largest Coast Guard rescue operation in American history, the service assisted approximately 34,000 people. Nine thousand of them were hoisted to safety by helicopters, which made for dramatic TV footage, especially when one shot might show a dozen helicopters hovering over roofs in a particular area, rescuing people one by one.

Why didn't we see the other 25,000? The answer is simple. The footage wouldn't be as homogenized and clean as that of the helicopter rescues. The rescue boats, mostly small punts, did not carry cameras because of the death factor. We didn't see dead bodies floating on TV. We didn't see dead animals floating on TV. Had there been cameras on boats, we might have, and in the case of dead humans, so, too, might have family members of the deceased watching from afar. As such, the boat crews didn't get their fair share of the plaudits for their efforts, in my opinion (not the author's).

Captain Mueller was there, overseeing those boats, and his matter-of-fact descriptions of the situation in New Orleans after Katrina are jarring. One Coast Guard station was destroyed during the storm, others severely damaged. Crews lost their own homes yet worked night and day, living in tents on station grounds. Looters ransacked the stations, with more than 60 brought to justice at Station New Orleans alone, where they had urinated on beds and smeared feces on walls.

As crews headed out to rescue anyone they could find in a house-to-house search, snipers fired at them. PSUs (Port Security Units) and MSSTs (Maritime Safety and Security Teams) arrived and their members, fully armed and armored, took up positions on the bows of the boats to deter them. Other unsung heroes arrived, like the PGA (yes, the Professional Golfers Association), which set up a massive cooking station to feed the Coasties as they worked.

Katrina was a time of unfathomable effort. Can any of us truly say we understand what it took to rescue the amount of people the Coast Guard, FEMA and other partnering agencies did? This book attempts to share that knowledge.