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Task Force Guardian opens internís eyes
ARNEWS ^ | Robin Fulkerson

Posted on 04/27/2006 4:07:15 PM PDT by SandRat

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 27, 2006) – Volunteering to work in public affairs for Task Force Guardian is somewhat like plunging into Lake Pontchartrain. It immediately awakens all of ones senses, while providing instant meaning to priorities and issues of real importance. While the experience was meant to expand my media-relations knowledge, it’s also schooled me in the power of the human spirit.

As a Department of Army public affairs intern, I didn’t expect to have the opportunity to deploy to an emergency operations center. When the chance was offered to work with the Corps of Engineers, I quickly agreed knowing the experience would challenge me mentally, physically and emotionally.

A land far, far away

When Hurricane Katrina hit Aug. 29 last year, it occurred in a seemingly foreign place from my home in Kentucky. I had never traveled to New Orleans, and the only images I had of the Crescent City were Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras.

But New Orleans is no longer a city throwing parties every night. It is a city struggling to come back from the greatest natural disaster ever experienced in the U.S. Blue roofs, broken windows and debris landscape much of the city, altering the images in my mind.

My second day with Task Force Guardian was filled with a tour of the areas hit hardest by the hurricane. Incidentally, I was part of a public affairs team scheduled to present the tour to several civil engineering students from the University of South Carolina. Just like they would, I was seeing the destruction for the first time.

David Deshotels, a contractor with Stanley Consultants, tried to prepare me for the devastation. “You have to experience it with all five senses,” he said. “You can’t put it into words.”

Deshotels was right. As we pulled up to the London Avenue Canal breach, I noticed the mountains of debris and sand, and water marks on the homes. In some places the water marks exceeded my height; in others, it was the sand. I couldn’t imagine the scenes getting worse but each stop proved me wrong.

Moving through the 9th Ward

As we moved across the bridge over the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal (IHNC), the Lower 9th Ward destruction took my breath away. Houses were pushed from their foundations and into one another. Many of them were merely pieces scattered across the area. Some homes even rested atop vehicles, picturesque of destruction seen across the Midwest after a tornado has ripped through communities.

Oddly, throughout the destruction, some objects remained fully intact, even unmoved. Glass bottles standing on a cinder block table, unmoved and unbroken by the flood, gave way to flashbacks of what life may have been like down in the ward prior to Katrina.

In the Lower 9th Ward, nothing was salvageable. Many people have left the area with plans to never return. Others have nothing to go back to but manage to smile, determined to build again.

Crescent City outreach

Experiencing the spirit and determination of this city’s people has strengthened my commitment to connect with them, which is why community outreach became one of my primary responsibilities.

Often we find that communities are misinformed about what is happening in their neighborhood regarding levee reconstruction. The Corps is working around the clock to restore hurricane protection to all the affected areas, but not all community residents are aware of what we are doing for them. I tell our story in a brief newsletter, hoping it will educate residents about our projects.

The newsletter serves to help citizens of New Orleans understand that the Corps has a stake in this restoration project too. Across the city, residents appear to believe the Corps just swooped in out of nowhere to take over the reconstruction of the levee system. Locals do not realize many New Orleans District employees lost their homes during Katrina.

A bittersweet return

In two weeks I will return to my internship in Vicksburg. It will be a bittersweet departure from TF Guardian. Not only have I grown professionally, I have also grown personally. This deployment has allowed me to break down my stereotypes and connect with others who have experienced a catastrophic event – one that I cannot fathom experiencing. I have also been given the opportunity to do something I enjoy doing – educating people about what is happening in their communities. Everyone here is dedicated to completing this mission by June 1 so the people of New Orleans can “laissez le bon temps roule encore” (let the good times roll again).

(Editor's note: This is a commentary from Robin Fulkerson, a Department of the Army Intern with the Engineer Research and Development Center Public Affairs Office.)

TOPICS: Editorial; Foreign Affairs; US: Alabama; US: Florida; US: Louisiana; US: Mississippi; US: Texas
KEYWORDS: eyes; force; guardian; hurricane; interns; katrina; opens; rita; task

1 posted on 04/27/2006 4:07:20 PM PDT by SandRat
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