By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
GULFPORT, Miss., (09/02/08) – A day after Hurricane Gustav hit land, Gulfport-area residents are returning to their homes. But even though Gustav didn’t pack quite the expected punch, many citizens may find themselves without power and clean, running water.
As they make their way back to their communities, people may notice one of several distribution points the state’s National Guard has set up.
For the next few days, as local authorities repair the city’s power grid, the state’s citizen-soldiers and –airmen will provide water, food and ice in various locations along the coast.
Although the mission isn’t as “sexy” as many of the troops would like, the Mississippi Guardsmen are pleased to support their communities and even more pleased that the local residents are already able to return home, Army Staff Sgt. Guy Bounds said.
“We’ve been to combat. We’ve been to Iraq, and we enjoyed helping the Iraqi people,” said Guy, who’s assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 114th Field Artillery Regiment from Starkville, Miss., “but helping out our own people in our own state and country – that really counts and means a lot to us.”
The Guardsmen set up their operations at about 9 a.m. today and continued until sunset. They’ll continue that schedule until they are ordered to stand down and are deactivated. By noon, they had handed out about ice and bottled water to nearly 800 people, Guy said.
“Although we hate to come here and see people in such need, we love the warm welcome,” he said. “We love to see how happy they are to see us in their communities.”
When people first saw the Guardsmen setting up and working their distribution point just outside of Gulfport, car horns started going off. People were waving and shouting their praises. Even people driving by who didn’t need water and ice were appreciative, Guy said.
“Anybody can hand out food and water, but we’re doing a lot more when we run our points of distribution,” Army Maj. Lee Smithson, director of military support for the Mississippi National Guard’s joint forces headquarters, said. “We’re maintaining order, and we’re making the public feel like their needs are being tended to, because nothing sets the public at ease more than guys in uniform and guys in Humvees. We don’t need to carry weapons around for people to know we’re taking care of them.”
The Guardsmen were alerted for their current mission Aug. 28 and began pre-positioning immediately at the Gulfport Army National Guard Readiness Center, the Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, and at Vancleave Middle School in Jackson County.
The weaker-than-expected hurricane has allowed most of Mississippi’s second-largest city to resume near-normal functions. The highways are bustling with traffic, and many local shops, retail outlets and restaurants are operating.
Officials with the Mississippi National Guard’s joint headquarters here said they anticipate local authorities to have full control of the situation by as early as Sept. 4.