After two hurricanes, military crews are tired but not down
CONROE, Texas — Hurricane Rita hit home in more ways than one for Army Capt. Lee Evans of the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade.
The San Antonio man, who is helping with hurricane relief efforts, said he put up the wife and 8-month-old son of one of his friends stationed in Iraq, who lives in a part of Texas where Rita was projected to hit.
“I think, overall, it’s what I hope other people would do for me if I was in that situation,” Evans said.
He also has a brother in Houston who had to evacuate to avoid Rita. And another brother is in the Coast Guard and lives in Mobile, Ala., and has been busy ever since Katrina hit, Evans said.
Overall, the Army has assigned 300 soldiers to the aviation element of Task Force Rita, said a 1st Cavalry spokesman.
Evans said he never expected to see Iraq-style humanitarian missions inside the United States.
Ten Chinooks delivered 150,000 pounds of food and water since Sunday, and they are expected to deliver up to 150,000 pounds more Tuesday, said Master Sgt. David Larsen, a spokesman for the 1st Cavalry Division.
Pfc. Charles Leasure, a crewmember on one of the Chinooks, volunteered to go out for Hurricane Rita relief after 16 days of helping Katrina victims.
Leasure said crews are tired but not down after back-to-back humanitarian missions.
The biggest challenge now is finding enough fuel for the helicopters.
“We’re just scraping up what we can; we’re using a lot of civilian tankers,” said Leasure, whose unit returned earlier this year from Camp Humphreys, South Korea.
Evans said local officials have been helpful in coordinating the supply efforts. In some cases, county officials have redirected supplies to areas hit harder than their municipalities, he said.
The 1st Cavalry Division was planning how to respond to Hurricane Rita days before the storm hit the Gulf Coast, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Tom McClellan, tactical operations officer with the 2nd Battalion.
McClellan said the biggest challenge facing the relief efforts is the delays that come from working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Helicopters have been delayed between one and three hours after landing to pick up supplies because FEMA has had neither the equipment nor the people to load the provisions onto the aircraft, McClellan said.
But the situation is getting better, he said.
“FEMA is learning and improving their interaction with our logistics system,” McClellan said.