Thursday, October 20, 2011

Nightmares of Katrina 8

After the team had left to go west in anticipation of Hurricane Rita, I joined another team that was also traveling to prepare for the coming onslaught. I will change the names to protect the innocent and because I'm not sure they would want to have the memories reawakened. Just as I won't give the exact route or locations of that fateful Equinox Eve, so too I will not give the names. No one should try to find what we found, no one should try to follow us down to the, I hesitate to call them places (which you will see why as we progress), but I would not want anyone to try to contact my fellow witnesses.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 (CW3) Mac was heading into the city on a twofold mission, to confirm sources for food and to find routes. She was bringing with her one of her subordinates, a young female soldier I'll call Private (PFC) Brown. I thought that their efforts to find clear routes would give me an opportunity to check the satellite phones along those routes.

I want to mention something interesting about Chief Mac before I get too far into the narrative. We served in Afghanistan together, although assigned to different bases. I always heard good things about her service in country, and from times when we did work together I can personally attest that she was one of the best Warrant Officers I ever had the pleasure of serving with, always professional, knowledgeable, positive, and quick witted. I have nothing but respect and admiration for her, and I hope she feels the same toward me. When we were preparing to redeploy home from Afghanistan she confessed something to me. She had served with my father in a previous unit.

My father retired a few years earlier as a Brigadier General, one of a very few in the Illinois National Guard. I had always tried to keep my distance from him in order to be my own man, to stand on my own merits and not invite any sort of favor. I never introduced myself in any association with him when I met people, and in fact, only brought him up when discussing something that involved him personally, never if it only involved my relationship with him. Conversely, very often, almost universally, when I was introduced to someone they would ask about my father, or tell me that they had served with him. Certainly the praise and respect was universal, with one single exception.

Chief Mac was the only person I ever met who had served with my father who did not mention it on our meeting. As I said, we had served in Afghanistan for a year before she ever brought it up. She was also the only person I ever met who did not like him. The reason she didn't mention him to me was because she wanted to judge me on my own and not prejudge me based on my father. She did tell me after she gained some respect for me. She told me that my father teased and harangued her when she was an NCO on his staff about going to Warrant Officer School instead of becoming a candidate for a Commission. She never forgave him that.

Knowing my father, I'm sure that he saw her as a promising leader and a valuable Non-commissioned officer and felt that her talents in leadership would better serve the Army in a Commissioned role, but he overplayed his hand to the point of alienating her. Obviously for my part, I had no such prejudice against her since she was already a top notch Warrant Officer when I met her. As we shall see I have an undying gratitude to her as well.

We started in the late morning, I don't know if it was design, fate or mismanagement. It wasn't supposed to be a very long trip. Chief Mac had been in the city many times and she knew her way around very well.

No matter how well one knew the city though, that month made the solid, paved, straight roads into a constantly devolving, slippery, barely passable labyrinth. Whole parts of the city were blocked off, some because they were still flooded, some for security purposes, some I think, just because. Parts of the tollway and highway were open at some times and closed at others, ramps opened and closed daily so that you never new where you would be getting off or where you could go from there. Vehicles sometimes moved on the right and left side of the road, sometimes only on the right, sometimes only on the left. Once you were on the highway you had to be prepared to exit or travel in a seemingly random way.

That day the traffic was all on the right side of the divided and elevated tollway. We passed through the eerily vacant toll booths and crested the rise to glimpse the city, the battered buildings and the abandoned river. Our exit wasn't available, having been closed, so we moved on to the next and the next.

No comments: