Skip to comments.HOWGOZIT from aboard USS Iwo Jima
Posted on 09/21/2005 7:00:44 AM PDT by pabianice
Date: Tue, 13 Sep 2005 15:27:31 -0500
IWO JIMA has been on station for more than one week pierside New Orleans River Walk. I finally have time to sit down at the keyboard to throw down a few observations wrt the crew of IWO JIMA and her efforts in JTF KATRINA. Feel free to pass on to your JODITE addresses if you deem appropriate.
IWO JIMA was into the second day of Initial Assessment/Underway Demonstration (IA/UD) (an engineering training inspection), and outbound in the channel when we were ordered to return to port. We returned pierside in the early evening to commence loading stores for Hurricane Katrine Disaster Relief Efforts. The supply folks worked through the night loading stores with five fork lifts, including one offered and operated by our sister ship SAIPAN. IWO JIMA shifted colors, underway just after noon the next day; pulling the brow while still literally craning stores onto the aft elevator. IWO JIMA pushed at flank bell after loading more store and equipment via LCAC in Chesapeake Bay. Three days later we were on station 15 miles south of Biloxi/Gulfport, MS. We spent one day offloading the SeaBees, engineers, and nearly all our humanitarian stores. Our three CH-53's flew round the clock moving MOGAS, bottled water, MRE's, and helo Pack-Up Kits (PUKs - to sustain helo operations). Our five SH-60's and two H-3's flew SAR and moved pax. And on that same day, we moved more than 200 Sailors ashore who spent hours cleaning the debris from a local church.
That evening, we were ordered to pull anchor, and once again proceed at flank bell to the mouth of the Mississippi. We reached the delta by sunrise, flew on CPG-2, rcvd our river pilot, and proceeded up the Mississippi River at best speed. The pilot became emotional on the bridge, shedding a few tears as he thanked the watch teams for our assistance. He gave a personal narrative as we steamed up the river, witnessing first hand the destruction of Katrina in Louisiana. There were absolutely no leaves on any tree, giving the image of a mid-winter day in New England (except the temperature was in the low 90's), the helmsman noticed there were no birds, whole communities were erased, hundreds of barges littered the banks, and smaller vessels came to rest on roadways, backyards, and even one lodged in a tree.
The entire 8 hour transit up the river, our flight deck was manned and operational. One H-60 was tasked on a SAR and removed stranded evacuees. Another was flown up the river to New Orleans to recon the River Walk, where we were to berth. The CH-53's continued on their all-day mission to move supplies from Pensacola to New Orleans and bring an 84 member medical augmentation staff to IWO JIMA. Still another H-60 flew to the Harry S Truman to bring staff and reporters.
As we pulled pierside, New Orleans was nearly deserted. We suspended helo operations long enough to throw the lines over and lower the brow. Before we reopened the deck for business, we had three helos stacked in a holding pattern; two codes and a medivac. The River Walk terminal was occupied by the 119th MP battalion who had arrived the day after the hurricane passed through. The OIC met us on the pier, and informed us that his folks had been sleeping on concrete, eating MRE's, and had no showers since they arrived. IWO JIMA took on our first mission bringing 140 RI NG for showers, a hot meal, and assigned them troop racks. Word spread like a California wildfire that Hotel IWO JIMA had arrived. The 125th MP Battalion marched eight miles through the city to reach our pier that evening for a shower and some food. These folks on the ground are HEROES - they brief at 0600 and move out on rescue missions throughout the city, most days not returning until near midnight. They gear up in 90 degree heat as they work their way through debris and sludge that has settled in the communities as the flood waters recede. We are honored to berth as many as possible at night for a few hours of rest. Unfortunately, the inn filled quickly, and we are only able to house a fraction of the Guard and Active Troops. This has not stopped the National Guard, 82nd Airborne, first responders, and government workers from lining up at our quarterdeck like Walmart at Christmas. We accommodate all, we turn away none.
Immediately upon arrival, the crew organized to clean up the pier. There was trash, debris, and broken glass everywhere. If this was to be our new home, we wanted to show the City of New Orleans we take pride in being here. We then moved into the terminal and beyond, our engineers fixing a city park water fountain and cleaning the park grounds.
The next day the flight deck began 24/7 operations (a deck manned for nominally 10 hours of operating per day) receiving a dozen medivacs and numerous VIP hits. During the first three days alone, our flight deck crews executed more than 700 evolutions! - and has not slowed much since then. The SWIFT transits the Mississippi every three days restocking IWO JIMA, TORTUGA, and SHREVEPORT by M-boat and Vertical Replenishment by helo. The PFO, FEMA, CDC, JTF staff, CPG-2, CPR-4, have all made IWO JIMA their home and command and control center.
The Air Traffic Controllers work 24/7 (again, only manned for 10 hour operations) maintaining aircraft separation in a most challenging helicopter environment while the Tacron folks have established a regional Search and Rescue Medivac Command and Control Center onboard. The Ops and C5 folks are engaged with a 24-hour watch in our Combat Information Center and Comms spaces. Maintaining our connectivity with the rest of the world is absolutely critical.
The culinary specialists are manned to feed and care for 1200 crew, but have been feeding close to 3000 per meal in addition to working lunches for military and civilian VIPs. They have accomplished the impossible in laundry services, and prepping rooms for VIPs and their staffs. Guests have included the Commander in Chief, the Vice President, Governor of Louisiana, Mayor of New Orleans, Parish Presidents, the CNO, Homeland Defense Secretary, FEMA, PFO, JTF Commander, and more than 25 Flag and General Officers. These Sailors have executed their duties flawlessly, with smiles, and without so much as a whisper of a complaint.
The engineers hit the streets on the third day and commenced their 'Fix-it' routine. Items repaired include dewatering a hospital basement, air-conditioning units in the River Walk Terminal and Convention Center. Today they move to the City Hall. Those that aren't involved in repairs have set up and help man a food line outside the Convention Center for First Responders. All this while maintaining water, electrical power, air conditioning and services for more than 2500 guests on IWO JIMA. As the President told our Chief Engineer, "The water is hot, and the air is cold - your folks must be doing a tremendous job!"
Our security team has also worked endless hours securing the perimeter and monitoring thousands of 'guests' who walk on board. They received the highlight of their professional career working with US Secret Service for the President and Vice President's visit. Deck Department is working extremely hard keeping the ship maintained in 4.0 condition, despite the heavy traffic of personnel across the quarterdeck.
The Navy Chaplains have provided services and counseling for the hundreds of National Guard and DoD members while organizing community relations projects with the local parishes.
Our Public Affairs folks and photographers start at reveille meeting the press on the pier. They also had the personal privilege and professional honor of working with White House Staff and National Press during our VIP visits.
Our hospital and medical staff have been busy with evacuee medivacs and military personnel injuries, saving patients from knife wound, gunshot wound, and vehicle mishap, among countless others, while maintaining a 24-hour sick call (outpatient care). In addition to running Hospital Suribachi, they have delivered medical supplies to numerous hospitals in the city who were running low. Today, we're hosting the Department of Health and Human Resources planning meeting to work the Hospital plan for the next six months.
Our Supply folks have been challenged to the limits keeping IWO JIMA, all her guests, the first responders, and the citizens who have lost everything fed and hydrated. Ordering, receiving, and distributing food, water, and medical supplies on a scale unprecedented for this ship.
Finally, our SeaBees and LCAC crews continue to stay busy in Pascagoula, Gulfport and Biloxi, cleaning up, laying causeways, and dozing debris.
Through all this the crew remains upbeat. We held all-hands quarters in the hangar bay to begin the day on 9-11, and I was privileged to address the crew. We followed by sounding the ships bell over the 1MC at 0846 (north tower), 0903 (south tower), 0945 (Pentagon), and 1010 (Shanksville) followed by the word "REMEMBER". The CO charged the crew on this sober anniversary with helping our fellow citizens in need once again.
With less than one month remaining prior to attending PCO school, I could not have imagined a more rewarding experience than watching this crew with an average age of 20 put their shoulder to the wheel on such short notice. Many gave up Labor Day vacations, family weddings, reunions, and even being present for their spouses giving birth, for an opportunity to help in the Relief Effort. Dozens of IWO Officers and Sailors came into my office to rip up their leave chits when we received the orders to get underway. Others, who recently transferred, or who were billeted to staffs, requested to deploy with us on a moment's notice. And one can never forget the families who give their loyal support, despite the immediate hardship of separation from loved ones and no knowledge of when we will return. To a Sailor, to a family, they believe in this mission.
Despite the accomplishments of the crew, I am saddened to report that it is only a drop in the proverbial bucket. The devastation as I flew over the city and surrounding counties can not be captured by video alone. The expanse of acreage that has been laid to waste in Katrina's wake will bring the most stubborn of individuals to tears as viewed from 500'. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the citizens of the Gulf Coast who have lost so much. In final analysis, IWO JIMA has become a hotel, a Command and Control Center, a heliport, a hospital, a chow hall, a town hall, the local stores warehouse, a media center, and a Laundromat. Her crew attempts to assist in any way they can - unfortunately, we on IWO JIMA wish we could do more.
v/r, Sheriff /M.A. Walley/
/ //Captain//, //U.S.// Navy/
/ Executive Officer/
/ USS IWO JIMA (LHD-7)/
/ Phone 757-444-6139 (DSN 564)/
/ Cell 571-228-9435/
USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7)
(From a former Coastie!)
THere was a pic in the NY Times last week, of the Iwo Jima next to a big cruise ship docked at New Orleans.
That big cruise liner looked like it was gonna eat the Iwo. Surreal to see the two end-to-end like that.
Re: "Guests have included the Commander in Chief, the Vice President, Governor of Louisiana, Mayor of New Orleans, Parish Presidents, the CNO"
Berthing for Mayor Nagin should be down in the enlisted ranks - give him a tooth brush to scrub the head and see how long it takes for him to schedule an air conditioned Greyhound bus with a toilet to his new home in Dallas.
I was on the Iwo Jima during Desert Storm, (4th MEB).
When did it become LHD-7? When I was on the Iwo it was LPH-2. The picture of the Iwo above does not look like the Iwo Jima I remember.
While I was aboard we had a horrible boiler accident that killed 10 sailors. God Bless All of Them.
mark for later.
Thanks for posting,
Zot: More for your timeline. 119th MP Bn arrived day after huuricane in N.O.
Pray for W, NO, MS and Our Troops
HA HA!! We would've given him a "pink belly" and sent him on his sorry ass way!! Scrubbing the head is too good for him!
46s, 53s, Cobras, and Harriers! Love it. BTTT!
It was like sailing through a big city in the middle of the ocean.
Very proud of the US Navy.
The IWO JIMA you flew off of was the LPH-2 Amphibious Assault Ship (Helicopter). That ship was almost 35 years old when it was decommissioned in July of 1993.
The current IWO JIMA is the LHD-7 Amphibious Assault Ship (Multi-Purpose) and was commissioned in June of 2001.
Just a little info from an old sailor still working for the DoN.
God bless our troops!
The Tripoli was decommissioned in September, 1995 and the New Orleans was decommissioned in October, 1997.
An interesting side note, the new USS New Orleans (LPD-18), Amphibious Transport Dock, is currently under construction at the Avondale Industries shipyard down in New Orleans. Of course, with the mess New Orleans is in now, I'm not so sure.
So is it a brand new ship or a makeover of the old Iwo? I remember when I was on it in D/S that it was comissioned in 1968.
Thank you for a fascinating, informative post! How little the average person can even conceive of this situation. It would be nice to hear more about it in the news. Our sons & daughters put their shoulders to the wheel to serve, and in return they get a knife in the back.
A brand new ship. Well, at least it was brand new when it was commissioned 4 years ago.
Thanks for the ping. I'll log it.