Armory deploys soldiers to Gulf

Hood River unit called to help hurricane victims

September 7, 2005

A worried new bride watched her soldier/husband pack his gear at the Hood River Armory on Friday for immediate deployment to the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast.

Krystle Holmes didn’t even know when Oregon National Guard Specialist James Holmes would be returning.

His emergency orders were for a minimum of 15 days but were open-ended in case his services were needed longer.

And a lengthy separation was hardly welcome to the woman who had just wed six days earlier.

“We’re not even sure that we can have contact and this is the longest we’ve been apart. I always knew this was going to happen but I’d feel better if I knew how long it was to last,” she said.

James, who was involved in the initial phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom, reassured his bride that this tour of duty would not be anywhere near as hazardous.

“It’s just a little fun in the sun. We’re just going over there to help those folks out,” he said.

The Armory was emptied out this weekend when all able-bodied soldiers not currently serving in Iraq were sent to Louisiana.

The local Guard members are assigned to the 218th Field Artillery Battalion from Portland. They join 2,000 other troops attached to the Guard’s 41st Infantry Brigade.

“Our unknown location is in the state of Louisiana and that’s about all we’ve been told at this point, except that we’ll be on patrol,” said Staff Sgt. Benjamin Hall late Friday afternoon.

He said members of Guard had been requesting all last week to go help their fellow citizens. So, they were excited about getting called to active duty in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. They are unsure exactly what conditions they will face as the grim task begins of recovering human remains from collapsed buildings and flood zones. The death toll in Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana is expected to be in the thousands. Hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated to temporary shelters and many of their homes are completely destroyed. Last week, the Guard played a key role in keeping the public peace and rescuing citizens who had been stranded by high water.

“This is what the National Guard is for — we’re proud to serve and glad to do our part,” said Staff Sgt. Roger Rouleau as he packed his gear.

Specialist German Lopez figured that, in spite of warnings over the unhygienic conditions, the situation in Louisiana couldn’t be any worse than his tour of duty in Iraq.

“I just got back in March and was adjusting back to civilian life but I’m glad to go out and give them a hand,” said Lopez.

Hall said all of the soldiers who will be helping out in communities devastated last week by Katrina are receiving typhoid and tetanus shots prior to arrival. He said other immunizations will be given as needed since the stagnant flood waters are likely to be teeming with bacteria.

The local Guard members will join five other emergency responders from the immediate area who are currently assisting with the relief effort. Mosier Mayor Marc Berry and Cascade Locks Paramedic/Firefighter Jeff Pricher shipped out immediately after Katrina’s swept through the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29. They were soon joined by Hood River Firefighters Peter Mackwell, Doug Epperson and Shawn Johnson.

The following Armory personnel not already mentioned above also left for Louisiana last weekend:

Pvt. Phillip Rice, Second Lt. Randy Killen, Staff Sgt. Gary Norris, Sgt. Shane Paasch, Staff Sgt. Travis Sheehan, Sgt. Edward Aneson, Spec. Allen Bemis, Staff Sgt. Douglas Branham, Spec. Macedo Cruz, Staff Sgt. Richard Doolin, Staff Sgt. Lee Gochenour, Spc. Jason Howell, Staff Sgt. Edmund Jordan, Jr., St. Oliver Phelps, Spec. Charles Rystedt, and Pvt. Ryan Young.

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