Team Vance NCO aids in post-Katrina recovery efforts

  • Published
  • By Frank McIntyre
  • Public Affairs
It's been 13 months since Hurricane Katrina hit the nation's Gulf Coast, causing more than $125 billion in damages. From Master Sgt. Robert English's viewpoint, it could have been as recent as 13 days ago.
Sergeant English, 71st Flying training Wing command and control superintendent, recently spent a week in the New Orleans as part of the Nazarene Disaster Response relief effort.
"I couldn't believe the total devastation that was still very much evident in a lot of the areas we saw," he said. "No matter how much coverage the media provided showing the destruction, it's hard to fathom the amount of damage until you see it first hand."
The Spearman, Texas native was part of a 10-person group from Enid Nazarene Church that completed three projects during its Sept. 16 to 23 trip.
The local team completely gutted the interior of one house, installed flooring in a second home and ran water and power lines to a trailer serving as a free clinic in the stricken area.
The group worked in the Chalmette area of St. Bernard's Parish near New Orleans, but stayed across Lake Pontchartrain in Slidell, adding a 30-minute commute each way to their work days.
The visiting crew's dorm was Slidell Nazarene Church's new fellowship hall. Stacks of boxes formed a makeshift wall to separate the sleeping quarters from the kitchen and dining area of the hall that was completed just a week before Katrina hit.
"We were the 301st volunteer team to use the hall as a staging area and every team left their mark on the box wall," Sergeant English said. "And there will be many more teams following us, as Nazarene Disaster Response has received more than 1,000 applications for assistance, so there's plenty of work for all."
He said Nazarene Disaster response provides clean-up and rebuilding assistance, especially to the elderly, disabled, widowed and those lease able to help themselves.
Sergeant English said only fours houses of about 800 in the area where they were working appeared to have been restored with residents in them.
"The horrid devastation was really evident on our commute when we could look down from the bridge at New Orleans' 9th Ward -- the heaviest hit area," he said. "There were rows and rows of just cement porches and nothing else. On one street we counted 109 solitary porches with everything else gone."
"One of our projects was running water and electric lines to a trailer that a team of doctors and nurses had been using to provide free medical needs. They had been there eight months doing as much as they could without just the basic utilities," Sergeant English said. "it really felt good to be able to help give folks an opportunity to start getting their lives back."
The team leader was Enid First Nazarene Church pastor Bruce Johnson.
"This was an incredible mission and we were fortunate to have a Team Vance member with us. I'd like to thank the commanders at Vance for allowing Sergeant English to participate in it," the pastor said. "Hopefully there may be others from the base that will be able to participate in the return trip we have planned for May."
"It was a no-brainer to approve Sergeant English's permissive TDY for this humanitarian effort," said Lt. Col. Bob Brumley, 71st director of staff. "Anytime we are in a position to help those less fortunate, we try to ensure the support is there.