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FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas — Units from III Corps were on a “short string” to be committed to Hurricane Rita relief efforts Saturday, said the commander of Joint Task Force Rita.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, U.S. Northern Command tapped Fifth Army commander Lt. Gen. Robert Clark to command any active-duty troops sent to the Hurricane Rita region.

As of Saturday, elements of the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, and the 214th Field Artillery Brigade at Fort Sill, Okla., were on standby to be deployed to the hurricane region, said Clark.

The decision on whether to commit active-duty units “could be made at any time” depending on when states request the forces, said Clark.

He said he planned to make a commander’s assessment of the hurricane region later Saturday.

Clark said that the Coast Guard and National Guard were conducting search-and-rescue missions in the hurricane region.

The Coast Guard and National Guard — neither of which are under Clark’s command — have learned from Hurricane Katrina how to effectively integrate search-and-rescue efforts, he said.

Clark said he has heard no discussions about putting him in command of National Guard troops.

Also Saturday, Clark said reacting to the unknown was the biggest challenge facing him.

“If we have torrential rains that stall out over the portion of east Texas and Louisiana, where the hurricane is focused, water becomes the major obstacle and probably the most difficult challenge to deal with,” he said.

Clark also said he had a message for U.S. troops from Texas and Louisiana now deployed overseas: “Their brethren, their brothers and sisters in arms, are doing our very best to take care of their communities and their neighbors and their families.”

Ready to rock

Fresh from New Orleans, soldiers with the 56th Signal Battalion were psyched as they got ready to move out on Hurricane Rita relief efforts.

Engines roared to life Saturday as the soldiers, based at Fort Gordon, Ga., started moving their Humvees and trucks ahead of their planned departure.

Sgt. Douglas Maye said he was proud to be part of the mission.

“We’re putting feet to our words instead of sitting in the living room and saying, ‘Oh, they should have did it that way,’” said Maye.

Staff Sgt. Randy White, who has deployed to Kosovo and El Salvador, said he did not know when the unit would go to the hurricane region, but that they are glad to come to the aid of Americans in need.

“They want to take care of their own,” he said.

Sgt. Keith Dobson said the biggest challenge facing the soldiers Saturday was not knowing what will happen next.

Still, soldiers said they were prepared.

“We know we have a mission and we can accomplish it anytime, anywhere,” said Spc. Brian Whatley.

Whatley described the scene in New Orleans when the unit arrived as “a disaster.”

“Wish there was more I could do,” he said.

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