D’IBERVILLE, Miss. -- About a week after the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina leveled parts of the Gulf Coast, Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Camp Pendleton, Calif., began assisting communities along the Mississippi Gulf Coast Region.
A detachment from MEU Service Support Group-11 traveled from the city of Gulfport to D’Iberville High School to help clean up and rebuild the damaged school. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, the home of the D'Iberville Warriors varsity football team had remained unscathed for more than 25 years.
The Marines were not the only ones to come to the city's rescue. Help also came from across the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The Dutch Navy and the Mexican Marines also lent a hand to help rebuild two public schools in the community here.
A detachment of representatives from the U.S. Marines and the international military contingent were performing similar work a few miles down the road at D'Iberville Elementary School.
The Marine detachment, comprised of Spanish-speaking Marines, had a significant role in the internationally aided relief effort. In addition to assisting to clean up the school, the bilingual Marines acted as translators between the Mexican Marines and the English-speaking school faculty and Dutch sailors.
The Dutch sailors were previously conducting operations in Aruba. On their way home to Holland, the 187 sailors made a surprise stop here to help the relief effort.
"We were in the neighborhood and were asked by the U.S. if we could help," said Dutch Navy Lt. W. Lublink, head of the Dutch Navy relief operations. "I was glad that America asked us to help."
The relief effort marks the first time in more than a century that the Mexican military has stepped foot into the United States, and the second time in history it has crossed its border to assist another nation during a natural disaster, said Mexican Marine Lt. Ruben Oyarvide Pedrero, head of Mexican Marines relief operations here. The last time was during the Indonesian tsunami in 2004.
"When the tsunami hit last year, we aided by handing out food and water. Here, we are physically working and helping to rebuild things that have been destroyed," said Pedrero. “We train for these particular missions back in Mexico. We are always prepared to assist those in need of help," he said.
Some service members said they were very saddened by the havoc and destruction Katrina caused to the quiet middle class neighborhood.
"Seeing all this really makes you think that a catastrophe like this can happen anywhere," said Sgt. Plutarco S. Guzman, heavy equipment operator, MSSG-11. Guzman said that as he walked through the school's hallways, he could see that this was once a clean and typical high school. With hard work, he said, the Marines will get things back to normal.
The service members rolled up their sleeves and spent all day clearing debris from sullied lawns, broken glass and removing rain-drenched carpets. They cleaned linoleum floors, and picked up textbooks scattered throughout the empty hallways. The work they did made them feel the same as the people they were helping, grateful.
"We feel this tremendous amount of pride to be able to help those in need. Personally, I am extremely happy to be here to help in any way we can," said Pedrero. "You see something like this and you know that the people here have been wounded and are hurting. I pray that in time those wounds will heal," he said.
Pedrero and the other service's representatives have said that they have two things in common. They don't know how long their stay will be here, and most importantly, they wish to help the people of D'Iberville rebuild their city and get things back to normal.