Local guardsman helping Hurricane Katrina victims in Biloxi

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 1, 2005

The Times-Journal

A Dallas County man is getting to witness first hand the devastation from Hurricane Katrina as he works with his Alabama National Guard unit in Biloxi, Miss.

Sgt. Dennis McGee, of Plantersville, arrived yesterday in the Mississippi Gulf Coast with soldiers from the 900th Maintenance Company based out of Brundidge.

McGee said he was notified of his unit being sent to Biloxi on Wednesday evening and was told to be ready to leave the following morning.

“I was told we are going to be (in Biloxi) for two weeks,” McGee said.

McGee said the 75-member unit will be responsible for providing security in some sections of the city and supplying people with food and water.

“We may also be providing security for some businesses to prevent looting,” he said.

McGee said Biloxi was one of the hardest hit areas on the Mississippi Coast.

Before leaving with his unit, McGee said he expects to see large scale flooding, power outages and possibly looting.

McGee’s unit will be working alongside more than 2,700 other National Guardsmen in Mississippi, according to a National Guard press release. More than 8,600 National Guardsmen have been sent to Louisiana.

Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita said in a press release that many of those troops will be dedicated to the law-enforcement mission, helping local and state law-enforcement officials in maintaining security.

Unlike federal troops, the guardsmen operate under their state governors’ authority and are not subject to laws that prevent active-duty troops from performing law enforcement in the United States.

In addition to the National Guard, more than 7,000 active-duty troops, mostly Navy, were also supporting hurricane-relief operations in the Gulf Coast region.

The USS Whidbey Island, a dock landing ship based in Norfolk, Va., was also slated to depart for the Gulf on Wednesday. Once there, it will help move heavy equipment ashore in areas not accessible by land, according to National Guard officials.

The military support is concentrating on the three priorities President Bush laid out during an Aug. 31 statement to the nation: first, save lives; second, sustain lives with food, water, shelter and medical supplies; and finally, execute a comprehensive recovery effort.

McGee said in his 27 years of service in the National Guard, this is his first time helping out in a natural disaster.

“Being in the National Guard, we have to go where we are needed,” he said.