SLIDELL, La. -- Colorful beads fly through the air as Marines hoop and holler in celebration. A crowd of Marines falls into a conga line behind a glittering medieval jester, and dance to the rhythms of Cajun music.
Residents of Slidell held nothing back for the Marines of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit Service Support Group-11 (MSSG-11) Friday, by throwing a farewell, Mardi Gras-style party at a local elementary school.
Residents from the surrounding communities showed up to share a meal and to thank the Marines for all of the hard work and sacrifice they have made during Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
"Everybody without a doubt wanted to do something for the Marines. We think of the Marines as earth-bound angels in fatigues," said Dr. Joan Archer, Rotarian, and Fais Do Do organizer.
More than 60 residents from the community pitched in to thank the Marines for all of their work by throwing them a party. Donations from the Rotary club went to purchase food and party decorations. Chefs from the surrounding area restaurants volunteered to prepare home-style Cajun dishes for the Marines.
"Everybody's talking about the Marine Corps and what they have done for us in town," said Greg Cromer, Slidell city council member, District G.
Cromer said he appreciated how the Marines helped the elderly and those who couldn’t take care of themselves. Cromer said he personally saw the Marines in action.
"They would start at one end of a neighborhood and just kept cleaning as they went," said Cromer. According to Cromer, the help was very needed because the city does not have the necessary resources as a result of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.
Marines with the MSSG-11 have been working hard restoring the small town to more livable conditions by chopping down fallen trees, removing debris, and even hauling out rotted furniture from houses.
The Marines arrived in Slidell Sept. 9. They immediately set up their Command Operations Center in a local elementary school and began deploying teams of Marines into the community to aid with hurricane relief.
The teams averaged 15 Marines. Before every mission, they were issued chainsaws, axes, shovels, and protective clothing. Seven-Ton trucks transported them to the locations needing support. Seven or more crews would go out everyday and each would be tasked with five homes. Some of the properties would require two or more days of work, depending on the severity of damage.
"The Marines were a definite force multiplier to the city crews and they did a fantastic job," said Ben Morris, mayor of Slidell. "They helped so many citizens and the city in a lot of ways."
During the long hot and humid workdays, residents often thanked the Marines by bringing them cold beverages. Often, passing motorists would smile and wave hello.
"There has been nothing but thanks from the people of the community. Our mission has definitely been successful," said Sgt. Mohammad B. Hossain, food service specialist, headquarters detachment.
According to Morris, Hurricane Katrina affected Slidell's rich and poor residents alike. Morris estimated that 87 percent of homes in the area were damaged in some way. Many houses were so severely damaged they must be torn down completely. The significant damage left 10,000 to 15,000 people temporarily or permanently homeless, said Morris.
To help, the Marines from MSSG-11 combined their efforts with organizations like the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to find, repair, and clean shelters for people to use until they are back on their feet. These shelters included schools, warehouses, and even military structures.
During the party, Archer made a heartwarming speech to the Marines. She explained how much they have done for her personally and how she has seen the community change because of their presence.
"Before you came I was overwhelmed. The Marines came and I knew it was OK. You are leaving all of us with a sense of 'We can do it now,'" said Archer.
As the Fais Do Do began to wind down and as Marines thanked the residents for their southern hospitality, Morris tried to find more words to express the appreciation he and the residents felt. He thought about it for a while and then answered with a rhetorical question. "How do you thank someone who has saved you," said Morris, not expecting a reply. Then he just simply said, "God Bless the United States Marines."