Hurricane leaves deployed troops waiting on word
The irony wasn’t lost on Pvt. Richard Beyl.
Beyl, who’s serving in Iraq, has been unable to contact his family in the hurricane-ravaged New Orleans area, where phone lines are down and cell phone circuits are busy.
Usually, it’s the other way around — families sometimes have a hard time reaching soldiers downrange.
“I’ve tried calling, but I haven’t been able to reach anyone,” Beyl said Wednesday of his family, who live on the opposite side of Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, hit hard Monday by Hurricane Katrina.
“When I call my cousin’s cell phone, it says all circuits are busy,” said Beyl, of the 94th Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy), based in Mosul. “I just want to get in contact, so I know that they are all right. I hope they left before it hit, and went to stay with my family in Shreveport.”
Beyl is one of many servicemembers and civilians around Europe and in the Middle East who have friends and family in the Southern states hardest hit by the hurricane. Many worry because they haven’t heard anything at all. Some are managing to get reassuring word.
“Thank God for the Internet,” Warren Latham, Rolling Hills Athletic Club coordinator in Baumholder, Germany, said of e-mail traffic from family and friends.
Navy Capt. Michael Reed, stationed at Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy, managed to speak with his parents Sunday as they prepared to evacuate New Orleans for Baton Rouge, where his brother, Kevin, and his family already had safely checked into a hotel. His parents made it to the safe meeting point.
Amanda Bradford put her sister-in-law’s name on a Red Cross list at RAF Mildenhall, England, this week after family members had not heard from her. Bradford’s brother, who is a Navy Seabee, left his wife and her two children behind in Covington, La., near New Orleans, in June for a six-month deployment to Japan, Bradford said. The wife serves in the National Guard.
“She could be serving or looking for her family, or she could be stuck,” Bradford said. “So I’ve got a little anxiety.”
To add to the stress, Bradford’s husband, a firefighter with the 100th Civil Engineer Squadron at Mildenhall, is returning from Iraq on Monday, she said.
Others realized their helplessness, being so far away from home.
“What can you say, except that you’re empty, and scared, and that if you thought for one second that you could help by going back, you would be there,” Elie Stowe, chief of the Regional Contracting Office in Grafenwöhr, Germany, said in a written statement to Stripes.
The disaster has prompted the German government to offer its help — despite the distance, according to a statement released Wednesday by the German Embassy.
“We would of course also be prepared to support our American friends through the Federal Agency for Technical Relief,” German Interior Minister Otto Schily was quoted as saying to Reuters TV. The agency provides assistance in disasters in Germany, such as the flooding this summer in Bavaria and the massive flooding in eastern Germany in 2002.
Deborah Falkowski, an Army housing manager at the Kitzingen housing office in Germany, said she learns what she can from various relatives. Her brother reported that her mother and sister had left a relative’s home in Alabama to return to Mississippi to see if their homes still were standing, only to be turned away by emergency crews.
“Right now, I have no idea where they are,” Falkowski said Wednesday. “I believe they’re on their way to Baton Rouge.”
Falkowski’s mother is 81, and that worries her.
“We’re all concerned she’s going to go back to her condo and it’s not going to be there. We’re concerned how she’ll be able to handle that if there’s not anything left. Because my dad’s passed away and this was their last home together.”
Some families faced the disastrous aftermath with humor.
After days of no communication from her family in Gulfport, Miss., Crystal Brown, in Schweinfurt, Germany, received a text message from her brother, Jay Lewis, an Air Force reservist, which read: “The whole coast got destroyed, completely. But I BBQ tomorrow to celebrate our survival.”
Carey Perks, financial readiness program manager for Army Community Service at Vilseck, Germany, has not reached his sister. She’s sensible enough to have evacuated, he said, but he worries she might have stayed to guard her new, 4,600-square-foot dream house.
But his son, who has been in touch daily, is thankful for the truly valuable assets in his life, Perks said.
“My son’s alive, and for that you’re always grateful,” Perks said of Christian, a student at the University of New Orleans.
“And he was very philosophical when I talked to him yesterday. He said, ‘I’m not going to miss the stuff. We had too much stuff anyway.’”
Staff writers Terry Boyd, Nancy Montgomery, Steve Liewer and Russ Rizzo from Germany, and Rick Emert from Iraq, contributed to this article.
Checking in with family
The Navy Personnel Command has set up a 24-hour help line for sailors and families to call for information about loved ones affected by Hurricane Katrina. The number is 1-877-414-5358 (there is a toll from Europe), and is staffed by active-duty sailors with connections to government agencies, and the American Red Cross, which has shelters open in eight states, housing more than 38,000 people.
Red Cross seeks donations
With Red Cross officials predicting the disaster might be the most expensive yet, the organization has called for donations.
“Red Cross relies on the generosity of the American people,” said Ron West, deputy hub manager for the Red Cross in Ramstein, Germany. “They’re our primary source of funding.”
People can donate at www.redcross.org, by calling 1-800-HELPNOW (there is a toll from Europe), or mailing a check to: Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013.
Navy JASS database down in New Orleans
Hurricane Katrina has shut down the Navy’s internal database that allows sailors to apply for open billets, a Navy spokesman said Tuesday. Located in New Orleans, the JASS Career Management System server went down Monday, said Mike McLellan.
McLellan said he does not think any information has been lost, but the Navy does not know how badly the Job Advertising and Selection System has been damaged, or how long it will take to repair because Navy officials have been unable to get to the computers on Lakefront Drive.
“Just be patient. We’ll get it up as soon as possible,” he said.
Meantime, sailors who have put in requests for new duty stations are advised to either wait or call their detailer, McLellan said. Detailers track manning needs throughout the Navy and match sailors with open jobs.
From staff reports