By Maj. David W. May
Louisiana National Guard Public Affairs Office
LAKE CHARLES, La. - While more than 7,000 Louisiana National Guardsmen were activated to assist in hurricane recovery operations in Louisiana, one officer with the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team had the great satisfaction of taking part in the rescue of one of his own family members.
As the storm surge from Hurricane Ike, the second major hurricane to batter the Gulf Coast in less than two weeks, made its way along the coast of La.; Maj. Bryant R. Billiot, chief intelligence officer and a native of Dulac La., received a call from his worried sister.
“She told me that our cousin, Jessica Billiot, was franticly trying to get to her children who were staying at their uncle’s house while she was at work,” Bryant said. “When she returned that evening, the waters had covered roads and local authorities would no longer let anyone into the area.”
After pleading with them to let her through, Jessica finally gave up when an uncle assured her they would be fine inside his house which was on seven-foot stilts.
The next morning, she once again tried to reach her sons but found they had moved to another house on higher ground.
Jessica then became frantic after finding out the oldest, Starlin, had received a back injury. Normally this may not have been serious, but Starlin has hemophilia and could bleed indefinitely when injured, Bryant explained. In addition, the medicine which he used to control the condition was at the first house and the wind and rain made it impossible to return.
“That made it a dire situation,” Bryant said. It was then that his sister called, although they had been staying in touch through text messages.
Bryant already knew that units were conducting operations in the area and set about to contact them. “I had been tracking them since day one,” said Bryant. Even though they were not his unit, he felt he could trust them as if they were his own unit.
Bryant explained the situation to the Guardsmen who immediately contacted the Emergency Operations Center in Terrebonne Parish. The mission was then given to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ Agent, Thomas DeWitt.
DeWitt explained to Bryant that they would send a boat to get Starlin and his younger brother Holden immediately. Bryant gave Agent DeWitt the address and they set off to find the boys. However, after arriving they knocked on the door to no avail; no one was left in the house.
Bryant called his sister and found Starlin’s father had picked him up in a small boat a few minutes earlier and was taking him to meet his mother. Unfortunately the boat was so small Holden had been left behind and his mother was desperate to get him away from the area.
At this point, communications were lost with the family, but Bryant had grown up in the area and had a good idea where they might be. “I gave Agent DeWitt the address of another family member a few doors down,” he said. “They called me back a few minutes later and said, ‘we got him.’ It made me feel really good.”
"It was a logistical nightmare driving the boats down the streets and in yards that have never been underwater. You are always running into things you can't see and dodging mailboxes," DeWitt said. “When we can work together with the National Guard to make a rescue, it's a beautiful thing.”
The story didn’t end there; Holden refused to leave without getting his brother’s medicine from the first house and convinced the agents to take him there first. After retrieving the medicine he was returned to his mother and brother, now at Terrebonne General Medical Center nearby.
Bryant said at last report Starlin was doing fine and everyone had been reunited, and personally he felt very good to have had a small part in affecting the rescues’ outcome. “Makes me feel good that I have this uniform on,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
There was one other thing though. “If I wouldn’t have helped in the rescue, my family would never have let me live it down,” he laughed.