It took just a bit over four days to get military assistance in any sort of meaningful numbers to New Orleans. Are we supposed to be impressed when it finally arrived?!?
What can learn from the unbelievably slow military response?- First, that most of the military folks were coming by highway or ocean from distant parts of the country.
It is roughly 1100 miles from Madison, WI to New Orleans, LA. Google estimates that distance can be driven in just a shade under 18 hours. So, if you ordered up the local National Guard Military Police unit (which has happened) and told them to hit the road, they could be in New Orleans in under one day.
And yet, those folks weren’t scheduled to leave until yesterday.
One good question might be, “Why didn’t they fly?” Let’s assume there is a shortage of military transport aircraft in the United States (a valid assumption given the number currently employed in Iraq and elsewhere). How much effort would it take to charter a few commercial planes to fly troops to New Orleans? Was United Airlines realistically going to say, “Well, we’d like to fly troops to Louisiana, but we’ve got this half-full flight from O’Hare to Boise that we need to fly instead.” Sure, they’d have to land somewhere like Baton Rouge and the troops would be bussed into the city, and they probably wouldn’t have their heavy equipment with them, but they would have themselves, their uniforms, their radios, and their guns, and that’s what important. New Orleans didn’t need a company of field artillery, they needed 10,000 guys with guns interested in law and order.
But, it seems obvious that most of the National Guard units drove to LA.
If you look at the list of resources being sent to New Orleans, it is reasonably pathetic considering the wealth of this nation and the amount of money spent each and every year on the military. We’re supposed to feel proud that four helicopters from Pennsylvania are being sent? The 823rd Red Horse squadron is coming with fifteen vehicles? Wow. Fifteen whole vehicles. Eight airlift helicopters? That’s what we get for our multi-billion dollar defense budget? The DoD operates about 5500 helicopters [pdf]. Not all of those aircraft are capable of picking people off rooftops or evacuating hospitals, but even those that aren’t capable of such things could be put to use. If looters are shooting at helicopters, why not simply use Apache helicopters (armored against small arms fire) to direct rescuers and troops on the ground? Helicopters traditionally used for scouting or artillery spotting could be used to assess damage, direct traffic, and the like. But, wherever the military has those 5500 helicopters stashed, it isn’t about to send more than a double-handful to New Orleans.
There was absolutely zero planning on the Federal Government’s part for what might happen after the hurricane hit. Look at what’s happening at one of the Louisiana military bases. The SeaBees, also known as the United States Navy Construction Battalion, were evacuated from one of the local bases prior to the storm’s arrival. Apparently, they were told, “Don’t call us; we’ll call you.” The military is now asking the Seebees to call-in because, gosh, we could use their services and the military doesn’t know where they are.
What colossal dimwit sends the Seabees away from a hurricane zone without clear instructions on how to communicate once the danger has passed?!? That’s like misplacing the 101st Airborne in the middle of a war.
The Seabees. Their motto is, “Can do.” Builders of uncountable earthworks, bases, and the like in warzones and peacetime alike. Sure glad we don’t have them on the job right now. It’s not like there is a couple thousand giant civil engineering problems to be solved.
- One of my new favorite people is Lt. General Russel Honore. He’s spoken with CNN several times via telephone, and I love it when he ends his response to a question with, “Over.” That’s just too cool.