FORT POLK, La. — Hurricane Laura.
The storm’s name will forever recall a night of deadly destruction and despair.
In the early morning hours of Aug. 27, Hurricane Laura, an historically powerful category 4 storm packing winds of 150 miles per hour, slammed into the southwestern Louisiana Gulf Coast, devastating cities and towns from Cameron to Shreveport.
In its wake were demolished homes, businesses and lives. Trees were either ripped out of the ground by the roots or snapped mid-trunk, criss-crossing the Louisiana landscape like some giant child’s game of pick-up stix.
Among the areas to feel Laura’s wrath was the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, located on U.S Hwy 171 — the storm’s chosen path — just outside of Leesville, Louisiana.
The installation, home to the Army’s proving ground for brigade combat teams honing their skills prior to deploying to fight the nation’s wars, did not escape Laura’s fury. Power was lost, homes were damaged and even the steeple on top of the Main Post Chapel was blown off.
To compound matters, as Hurricane Laura took aim at southwestern Louisiana, Soldiers with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), were in the “box” — the JRTC training area where rotational units are put through an unrelenting crucible by JRTC’s world renowned opposing forces: 1st Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry Regiment “Geronimos.”
When you throw in that the training and Laura’s recovery efforts were conducted under COVID-19 protocol and mitigation, you have an idea of what faced the Soldier and civilian team at Fort Polk.
In short order, 5,000 rotational Soldiers were moved from the wooded training areas to buildings designed to withstand hurricane winds.
Safe havens were established on the installation for both humans and pets to ride out the storm and her aftermath.
Clearing roads of debris was a priority as even senior NCOs manned chainsaws to assist in the effort.
The Warrior Operatios Center was staffed 24 hours a day to tackle any issue that reared its head or any question that needed answering.
Most importantly, the Families of rotational unit Soldiers from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and Reserve units from 11 other states, along with permanent party OPFOR and observer, controller/trainers, were kept informed about the storm and steps taken to insure their Soldiers’ safety. Facebook posts and all-users emails were routinely published, letting concerned Family members know their Soldiers were receiving quality care.
Was the response perfect? No, nothing ever is. But what it did do was lay the groundwork and create a blueprint for others to emulate. From the specialist who sat on the floor of the kennel in the Pet Safe Haven to comfort scared pups, to Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Ausbun wielding his chainsaw like a six gun to help clear downed trees, the entire JRTC and Fort Polk team worked together to protect life, limb and property from Laura’s wrath.
And once the damage is cleared and operations return to some semblance of order, after action reviews will be conducted and suggestions put in place to do even better when the next hurricane — or other catastrophic event — places the JRTC and Fort Polk in its sights.