Archive for Thursday, September 29, 2005

Caring at home and away

Elementary principal’s Guard unit in Louisiana

September 29, 2005, 12:00 a.m.

Updated: September 29, 2005, 10:31 a.m.

Before Aug. 27, an unplanned excursion to New Orleans with only a day to prepare often meant a whirlwind tour of famous bars, entertainment and historical glamour.

Tim Newton, principal of Lansing Elementary School, at least got to experience the "unplanned" part. His Kansas National Guard unit was called to active duty Sept. 1 in the Crescent City with one day's notice before leaving to help with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

Sgt. Maj. Newton is working in the command and control headquarters for the 35th Infantry Division in the Naval Air Station in New Orleans. He said the division last week had about 9,000 troops in the area. About 150 troops from Fort Leavenworth were at the division headquarters, Newton said.

"Basically what we do is assign missions to various units to support local, state and federal agencies (mainly security and transporting food and water) and coordinate with units to ensure that they are supplied with fuel, water, and food," Newton wrote in an e-mail.

While the call to report was relatively sudden, getting there wasn't. Newton and his unit shipped out Sept. 5 from Leavenworth in a convoy and got to their destination Sept. 9, with overnight stops in Oklahoma City; Longview, Texas; and Alexandria, La. Newton said that the trip took so long because of the military's rules for road travel, mainly those requiring frequent stops.

When he got to the New Orleans area, Newton said, "The damage was pretty major: a lot of wind damage, a lot of major damage to structures."

"When we drove through the suburbs, it was a ghost town. Cities of 70,000 and 30,000 completely deserted," he said. "It was eerie."

Newton said he hadn't come upon any dead bodies since he's been there.

He also said he hadn't had occasion to visit the city proper, had no reason to, and the National Guard was restricting access to the city anyway.

There's been little opportunity for contact with locals, but "I feel real sorry for the people. It's a real sad case," he said.

Newton said his date to head back to Kansas was Oct. 3, though "that could change."

He said his sudden departure didn't cause problems for him, outside of having to get a new military identification card and driver's license. He talked to district superintendent Randal Bagby and wrote down "things to be aware of." Newton said while on duty he has called the school twice a week.

"I could run the school from here if need be," Newton joked.

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