Gulf spirit is strong, guardsman says
A sign on a flooded lot said: 'Red house missing. Please call [phone number].'
By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
Electrical power is beginning to be restored to some areas hit by Hurricane Katrina, but others are still under water, said Ohio National Guard Staff Sgt. Bob Barko Jr.
"The resiliency of these people is amazing," said Barko, a 1987 graduate of Boardman High School and a 1993 graduate of Youngstown State University.
Barko, 36, of Youngstown, is a member of the 196th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment out of Columbus. He has been deployed since Sept. 8 to Stennis International Airport in Mississippi as a member of Joint Task Force Buckeye.
Barko serves as a National Guard public affairs office photojournalist. His job with Joint Task Force Buckeye is to photograph the actions of his fellow service members as they provide security details, run patrols and distribute water, food and ice to people affected by the hurricane.
He's also taken ground photographs of New Orleans and Gulfport, Miss., and aerial photos, flying about 500 feet above the ground in a Blackhawk helicopter.
"The devastation is unbelievable. Even 500 feet off the ground, the odor was powerful," Barko said.
He is among some 1,500 Ohio soldiers and airmen mobilized by the governor to provide support to civilian and other military agencies in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Joint Task Force Buckeye includes military units from 21 states and active duty Marines, Barko said.
Stennis Airport is about 40 miles northeast of New Orleans, some 30 miles northwest of Gulfport, and just a couple of miles from Waveland, Miss., which is on the Gulf Coast, Barko said.
Barko, a local artist and owner of Steel Town Studios Gallery and Shoppe in Youngstown, said some schools are reopening and the people are bouncing back.
He said a sign on one of the columns of concrete blocks that once supported a house is an indication of their spirit. It read: "All is well. Thank God."
Another sign he saw on a flooded lot that once had a house on it said: "Red house missing. Please call ... (a phone number was listed)," Barko said.
He said the members of Joint Task Force Buckeye carry water, food and ice with them to hand out where it is needed.
Barko, who was scheduled to return to Youngstown this week, said he struck up a conversation with a family that included a small boy named Christian.
Barko had some things that had been sent to him by family and friends, and he asked if he could give the child some cookies.
"The smile on that kid's face was something," he said.