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Army Sgt. Michael L. Owens, Special to American Forces Press Service
NEW ORLEANS, Oct. 23, 2008 –
As Joint Task Force Gator continues to help with security in New Orleans, many of the city’s residents are becoming comfortable with the attention the soldiers and airmen of the Louisiana National Guard have been giving them.
For more than two years, the task force has assisted New Orleans Police Department and other law enforcement agencies by patrolling the streets and helping to keep the city safe. At first, many residents were nervous about the idea of having the military securing their city, but soon after seeing the Guardsmen working in their neighborhoods, they began to embrace the new guys in town.
“When you hear that the military is coming to your city, you tend to imagine mean soldiers with big guns, and that was the perception that I had,” said New Orleans Lakeview resident Beatrice C. Marconi. “As they began working, and I saw that my previous views were not a reality, it became a joy seeing them in my neighborhood.”
As the city began evacuation operations in late August as Hurricane Gustav approached, many citizens remembered that after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, they returned home to see that all of their possessions were stolen. But with the Guardsmen in their neighborhoods, residents were at ease about leaving their belongings in the hands of the National Guard during the Gustav evacuation.
Eastern New Orleans resident Kerry P. Wagener is one of the many people who put their trust in the soldiers.
“Ever since they began patrolling, their presence has made me and my neighbors feel really comfortable about living in our Katrina-ravaged neighborhood,” Wagener said. “When I evacuated for Katrina in 2005, I left with the notion that my home would be robbed by looters. When l left for Gustav, I felt safe knowing that the soldiers would be there to protect our little subdivision.”
Air Force Brig. Gen. John B. Soileau Jr., the task force’s commander, attributes its success to motivation.
“Since most of the soldiers and airmen live either in New Orleans or surrounding areas, they feel a sense of pride knowing that they are protecting something dear to their hearts,” he explained. “When you have a group of people with that much pride, it tends to show in their job performance.”
After two years of working in the streets of New Orleans, the soldiers have formed strong bonds with the city’s residents. Many residents think of the National Guard as a really close friend.
“They are always walking around and talking with everyone,” said 72-year-old resident Gertrude Leblanc. “Like all of my good friends, I seriously hope that they never leave.”
(Army Sgt. Michael L. Owens serves with the 241st Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)