RESERVE, La. – Following the devastation Hurricane Ida caused in Southern Louisiana, nearly 500 Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard members volunteered to give up their Labor Day weekends to come to the aid of their neighbors.
For almost three weeks, Task Force Oklahoma provided much-needed food, water, ice and other supplies to more than 77,000 families at some 30 points of distribution sites across 14 parishes.
The Oklahoma Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen also traveled through neighborhoods giving out water and ice to families in need and provided overnight security at POD sites and the Louisiana State University campus.
"We got the call from Louisiana [asking for help from the Oklahoma National Guard] and [all of you] answered the call," said Maj. Gen. Michael Thompson, adjutant general for Oklahoma, while visiting Oklahoma Guardsmen in Louisiana. "For me, it's a little sentimental being down here today, because 16 years ago, pretty much to the day, I deployed to New Orleans after [Hurricane] Katrina left a path of devastation like few people had ever seen. Now, to have so many Soldiers [and Airmen] volunteer to be here, it's just the spirit of the National Guard."
Many Guardsmen said this was not just their job; it was their duty.
"I feel like I'm actually doing what I joined the military for," said Spc. Caleb Galloway, a horizontal construction specialist with Bravo Company, 545th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. "I joined the Guard because I felt like I had more to offer to the citizens of the United States. If I can physically help someone, I'm going to."
This mission involved Soldiers and Airmen alike. Airmen from the 137th Special Operations Wing and 138th Fighter Wing helped 7,879 families at five PODs in three parishes. The Airmen on this mission agree this type of operation is what they expected to do when they raised their right hand.
"We volunteered to be here," said Airman 1st Class Jordan Terry, a crew chief with the 138th Fighter Wing. "It's just taking care of our neighbors, and that's why we volunteered and that's why we joined."
"It means a lot to me," said Airman 1st Class Ethan Burgess, a cable antenna journeyman with the 137th Special Operations Wing. "I love America and I love its people, and I love helping people [who might be in a position to come help us one day]."
Following the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, Oklahoma received help from hundreds of organizations in every part of the nation, including Louisiana.
"When we were in need, people came to our aid, and that's really what the Guard is about," Thompson said. "It's good that we're in a position to help a different state when they have an expressed need. I think our Soldiers and Airmen really feel good about being here and helping this community."
The Soldiers and Airmen of Task Force Oklahoma concluded operations on Sept. 14 and returned to Oklahoma over the following two days.