CAMP PENDLETON, Calif., -- The midnight oil was burning in the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit's command post here, recently.
The long hours started Sept. 3, when it would have been unusual for such a bustle of activity. The Marines of the MEU had just settled into a long Labor Day weekend when they got the call to mount up. Within days, they left in waves toward a disaster-stricken land.
It was not to Iraq, Africa or any other far corner of the world. No, they went off to provide relief and humanitarian assistance to the part of their homeland that was struck recently by Hurricane Katrina.
Sgt. Coy P. Loftin, supply platoon sergeant, Command Element, 11th MEU, grew up in Sumrall, Miss., just several miles North of where the hurricane devastated so much. Now, instead of waiting by the phone and watching the news for information, he was deploying with the MEU to help his former neighbors.
"This is the best thing in the world for us to do," said Loftin. There are so many
people in the area in need of support, he said.
Currently, Loftin is one of approximately 7,000 servicemembers on the front lines providing humanitarian and disaster relief operations. Nearly 500 of those are from the 11th MEU. They are contributing to the sizeable Marine presence already in place from the 24th MEU, Camp Lejeune, N.C., the 2nd Marine Aircraft Group, Cherry Point, N.C., 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Camp Lejeune, N.C., and elements of Marine Corps Forces Reserve.
The 24th MEU is contributing trucks, generators, and heavy equipment, while the 2nd MAW is contributing CH53E heavy lift helicopters, CH-46E medium-lift helicopters, UH-1N utility helicopters and a KC-130 Hercules transport aircraft. The Marine Corps reserve forces are also contributing various aircraft, vehicles, equipment and personnel.
Overall, people in the area are excited that the Marines of the MEU have been added to the long list of forces.
"I think it's a great thing they're coming to help out during this time," said Phillip Meeks, a 19-year-old native of Mobile, Al., and student at Tulane University, New Orleans. "The scale and efficiency of the military force coming is just what we need," said Meeks.
The 11th MEU was selected for this mission because of its ability to serve as a worldwide reaction and rapid-deployment force, and its experience in conducting humanitarian assistance operations abroad.
According to Maj. Thomas Impellitteri, assistant operations officer, 11th MEU Command Element, he is very confident in the MEU's ability to accomplish the mission. "The MEU will make a significant impact toward the disaster relief," said Impellitteri.
Once all of the Marines are in place, the MEU will be conducting a variety of missions. They will provide general support to the Mississippi and Louisiana National Guards, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other local disaster relief agencies.
They will provide highly skilled personnel who are trained to provide maintenance, transportation, water production, water purification, distribution functions, and other tasks.
The Marines from MEU Service Support Group-11, Company C, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-166. The Marines brought water-purification equipment, fork lifts, generators, and construction equipment.
This spirited helping hand is a relief for Loftin and other Marines originally from the area.
Loftin said he remembers not being able to sleep thinking about where the hurricane was going to hit, or waiting for phone calls from family or friends and not knowing if they were O.K.
"I didn't care about our possessions. I was just so worried that someone would die, because a life can never be replaced," said Loftin.
Loftin said that even before the MEU received the call to provide aid, he was lobbying to himself there to lend a hand. Loftin said he dropped subtle hints to the MEU sergeant major to allow him to get recruiter's assistance or annual leave so that he could go home and help out.
Now that Loftin is in the Mississippi area, he is glad to help out the hometown that supported him for so long.
Col. John W. Bullard, commanding officer, 11th MEU, said his Marines are fully trained to help the thousands of victims of this deadly hurricane.
"This storm has wreaked havoc and brought trajedy to the Gulf Coast Region," said Bullard. "We are eager to help our fellow Americans get back on their feet."