Sunday, September 11, 2005

All eyes look toward New Orleans

I guess the President has decided he needs eyes on the situation down along the Gulf coast. While he didn't really want to cut short his vacation, now that he's back at work, it seems like perhaps he'll create a southern White House.

Tonight, he's on the IWO JIMA, having arrived this afternoon.
He left the White House in the afternoon for New Orleans, where he was greeted by New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin. Bush shed his sports coat before boarding a helicopter for a brief flight to the ship docked in the Mississippi River in front of the convention center, where thousands of people waited in squalor for several days before being rescued.
((Don't be content with only a teaser of this post; read more of this musing.))
Upon arrival on the flight deck of the ship, Bush was greeted by Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen, commander of the New Orleans relief efforts, and Army Lt. Russel Honore, who is coordinating military relief efforts along the Gulf Coast.
He then posed for photos with the flight deck crew that has guided rescue flights and the Marine One helicopter that carried Bush onto the ship.
The Coast Guard's leader of the hour was much in evidence, as was Lieutenant General Russel Honore.

Honore and Allen are like two peas in a pod. Have you seen any video of Honore in action? He's a take-no-prisoners, no-bullshit, straight-shooter. With Honore and Allen on the same page, I wouldn't want to be in the way. No way in hell.
To troops, he's the "Ragin' Cajun," an affable but demanding general barking orders to resuscitate a drowning city. To his country, he's an icon of leadership in a land hungry for a leader after a hurricane exposed the nation's vulnerability to disasters.

With a can-do attitude and a cigar in hand, Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore arrived after Hurricane Katrina and directed troops to point weapons down in respect for a stunned and stranded population lacking food, electricity and safety.

And, the nation is seeing a no-bullshit man who has a clear sense of what needs to be done:
Stepping into a crisis that has drawn criticism of leaders at every level of government, Honore was praised for his compassionate approach to residents and his colorful bursts of instructions to troops, delivered in a Louisiana drawl with spits of profanity for emphasis.

"He's a man of action," said Maj. Gen. Bill Caldwell, commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, N.C. "He knows the area, understands the people and doesn't take no for an answer."

Honore has won over even some of the government's harshest critics, including New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who blasted the Bush administration's initial response to his city's disaster.

"He came off the doggone chopper, and he started cussing, and people started moving," Nagin told a radio station. "I give the president some credit on this. He sent one John Wayne dude down here that can get some stuff done."

The 6-foot-2 three-star general points out that John Wayne was an actor. "I'm a soldier. You get what you see," he said.

With his thin mustache and black beret, Honore has become one of the most visible figures of Katrina. On Sunday he appeared on both CBS' "Face the Nation" and on CNN's "Late Edition," where he defended giving food and water to people who are refusing to leave New Orleans.

"Right now, we want to make sure that we're taking care of the people that are alive, and that we are treating them with dignity and respect, and we're providing food and water for them," Honore told CNN.
Press reports note that Honore's daughter lives in New Orleans. What I haven't seen in the press is that his daughter is a long-time Coast Guard civil servant, currently assigned to Integrated Support Command New Orleans. I have to say that seeing the general... well, it didn't answer any questions, but it certainly put some things in perspective. Let's say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

And speaking of not falling far from the tree... I continue to come across Mrs. Bush (senior)'s comments from last week. They seem to be in the "most emailed" lists of news stories. It will not die. From The Nation, we get this:
Finally, we have discovered the roots of George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism."

On the heels of the president's "What, me worry?" response to the death, destruction and dislocation that followed upon Hurricane Katrina comes the news of his mother's Labor Day visit with hurricane evacuees at the Astrodome in Houston.

Commenting on the facilities that have been set up for the evacuees -- cots crammed side-by-side in a huge stadium where the lights never go out and the sound of sobbing children never completely ceases -- former First Lady Barbara Bush concluded that the poor people of New Orleans had lucked out.

"Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this, this is working very well for them," Mrs. Bush told American Public Media's "Marketplace" program, before returning to her multi-million dollar Houston home.
Ouch. No wonder why the President has decided he needs to be a visible presence.

I sort'a wonder, however, what value is a presidential visit? When a president visits, doesn't the work of recovery and rescue stop?

Our work in the Coast Guard doesn't stop, and it seems to keep on churning.
Petty Officer Wayne Weschrek thought he'd long ago put the dangerous stuff behind him. Yet here he was, aboard a Coast Guard helicopter hovering at 50 feet.

Weschrek, 28, clipped a metal cable onto his flight jacket, the instructor gave a final tug to his flight suit, and Weschrek slid out, riding the cable to the ground below at the Coast Guard's Cape Cod air station.

Eight years ago, after his daughter was born, Weschrek transferred out of the Coast Guard's law enforcement side, from ship boardings and drug interdiction missions, and became an environmental officer, a "duck scrubber" who contained oil spills and saved wildlife.

Then came the 2001 terrorist attacks. The Coast Guard became the nation's largest Homeland Security agency and Weschrek's duties changed again. He became a boarding officer, a member of the armed teams that search foreign ships entering U.S. ports.

The Coast Guard's duties are growing faster than its ranks and officers like Weschrek who were saving seals, breaking ice or repairing harbor lights are being retrained.

"If you're part of the Coast Guard today, you have to understand that we have two priorities: search and rescue, and security," said Capt. Peter Boynton, commander for all of Long Island Sound, which includes Weschrek's unit based at New Haven, Conn. "We still do everything else, but those are the main acts."

Today, "everything else" includes helping victims of Hurricane Katrina. Rescue crews on other Jayhawk helicopters were among the first to respond and the Coast Guard is credited with saving thousands from rooftops of flooded homes in New Orleans. Coast Guard personnel also run medical centers and head up shelter operations.
We seem to be the go-to agency.

Two years ago, there was talk about restructuring the Coast Guard to follow a regionalization of the Department of Homeland Security. We had expected to hear something about DHS's organization on the first anniversary of the department. 'Twasn't meant to be. DHS never regionalized.

The Coast Guard had attempted to position itself as the command center provider for the department. We were up against FEMA for that, as they evidently have command centers in various places (like Atlanta and Chicago).

I'm wondering if the Katrina fiasco is going to steer things toward the Coast Guard and the Coast Guard's way of doing business. We're regional and our operational commanders have a fair amount of leeway in terms of doing operations. The Coast Guard's ability to get onscene along the Gulf had more to do with our culture, I'd suggest, than anything especially done in preparation for Katrina's visit.

Perhaps we'll see DHS regionalizing. Perhaps we'll see the Coast Guard taking the lead in providing DHS regional command centers. Perhaps we'll see the Coast Guard continuing to take a leadership role within the department.

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