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Troops begin combat operations in New Orleans to fight 'insurgents'

Joseph R. Chenelly/Army Times | September 4 2005

NEW ORLEANS — Combat operations are underway on the streets “to take this city back” in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“This place is going to look like Little Somalia,” Brig. Gen. Gary Jones, commander of the Louisiana National Guard’s Joint Task Force told Army Times Friday as hundreds of armed troops under his charge prepared to launch a massive citywide security mission from a staging area outside the Louisiana Superdome. “We’re going to go out and take this city back. This will be a combat operation to get this city under control.”

Jones said the military first needs to establish security throughout the city. Military and police officials have said there are several large areas of the city are in a full state of anarchy.

Dozens of military trucks and up-armored Humvees left the staging area just after 11 a.m. Friday, while hundreds more troops arrived at the same staging area in the city via Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters.

“We’re here to do whatever they need us to do,” Sgt. 1st Class Ron Dixon, of the Oklahoma National Guard’s 1345th Transportation Company. “We packed to stay as long as it takes.”

While some fight the insurgency in the city, other carry on with rescue and evacuation operations. Helicopters are still pulling hundreds of stranded people from rooftops of flooded homes.

Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and police helicopters filled the city sky Friday morning. Most had armed soldiers manning the doors. According to Petty Officer 3rd Class Jeremy Grishamn, a spokesman for the amphibious assault ship Bataan, the vessel kept its helicopters at sea Thursday night after several military helicopters reported being shot at from the ground.

Numerous soldiers also told Army Times that they have been shot at by armed civilians in New Orleans. Spokesmen for the Joint Task Force Headquarters at the Superdome were unaware of any servicemen being wounded in the streets, although one soldier is recovering from a gunshot wound sustained during a struggle with a civilian in the dome Wednesday night.

“I never thought that at a National Guardsman I would be shot at by other Americans,” said Spc. Philip Baccus of the 527th Engineer Battalion. “And I never thought I’d have to carry a rifle when on a hurricane relief mission. This is a disgrace.”

Spc. Cliff Ferguson of the 527th Engineer Battalion pointed out that he knows there are plenty of decent people in New Orleans, but he said it is hard to stay motivated considering the circumstances.

“This is making a lot of us think about not reenlisting.” Ferguson said. “You have to think about whether it is worth risking your neck for someone who will turn around and shoot at you. We didn’t come here to fight a war. We came here to help.”

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