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Guard's work rewarding


Published: Sat, September 24, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.


Members were awed by the positive attitudes of the affected residents.
By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
AUSTINTOWN -- Hurricane Katrina victims were sitting on their porches with shotguns and rifles protecting their property when members of the Ohio National Guard's 838th Military Police and 583rd Law and Order detachments arrived in Mississippi on Sept. 4.
The people were in kind of a panic. They did not know when they would have power or what was going to happen. A couple of days later, assured of protection by the military, they had gotten out of their defensive mode and were starting to try to put their lives back together, said Sgt. Daniel Williams of Youngstown.
"They told us we got there just in time," said Sgt. Mark Tucker of Alliance.
Tucker said one of the Mississippians said that "much longer without a military presence, and things would have gotten ugly."
Positive reactions
The local ONG members, awed by the attitudes of the people there, said they did not run across even one negative reaction from residents in the face of the incredible devastation caused by the hurricane.
"You could actually see the effect of what you were doing. Their 'thank you' and smiles let us know they appreciated us being there," Williams said.
"We were there trying to help them. We passed out water and food and stuffed animals ... and yet they were always asking us if we needed anything," Williams said.
Sixty-five ONG personnel serving out of the Christy Armory on Victoria Road were ordered to Mississippi to maintain order and help residents impacted by the hurricane.
They were part of an ONG operation called Joint Task Force Buckeye, which was part of Operation Katrina.
The guard set up a tent city in Picayune, Miss., about 47 miles from New Orleans and 20 miles from Biloxi, Miss. It did much of its work in what was left of the posh community of South Diamond Head, Miss., on the coast.
Reflecting on mission
Several area guardsmen, who arrived home Wednesday and Thursday with their units, were interviewed Friday about their nearly three-week experience.
The first thing Williams noticed as the ONG neared Picayune was the long lines at the gasoline stations.
"When we first got there, the people were sort of in a panic, not knowing when electric power would be restored or anything else. Some left their homes with nothing, not even a toothbrush," Williams said.
"Utter devastation" was how Sgt. 1st Class Robert Whited described what he saw.
"You could see where the wave came in and smashed the houses. There was a line of debris on the trees 40 or 50 feet above the ground," said Whited of Austintown.
There was a 40- or 50-foot yacht that had been picked up by the wave and deposited in the woods, said Sgt. Mark Tucker of Alliance.
In some areas, "all you could see were the stilts that the houses used to stand on. A sign at one property declared: 'John and Lydia open house,' because it was all open," Tucker said.
Having been on missions around the world, Staff Sgt. Daniel Douglas of Akron said one of the major reasons this mission was so special was that "you could understand when the people were thanking you."
"This was the most satisfying mission I've ever been on. We were able to help them start to get back on their feet, and their attitudes were terrific," Tucker said.
alcorn@vindy.com


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