Hurricane Katrina's devastation and the subsequent break down of the rule of law in New Orleans and surrounding areas has weighed heavily on my mind the last few days.
There has been rightful consternation among many that the federal government has acted so slowly in New Orleans and elsewhere in the Gulf States. In fact, much of the 101st Air Assault Division, 911 for the Army, foreign and domestic, sits on post back in Ft Campbell. One could argue it should have been called in and this is exactly the kind of domestic operation it is suited for. The division's air assets could have been used quite effectively for security, and search and rescue operations. Part of the air-mobile component of the division, the CH-47 troop transport helicopter, can carry a platoon of soldiers, some 40 in all. Each helo could have been flown to pick up points, or landing zones, islands of despair within the drowning city, pre-designated by civil or military aerial reconnaissance, or even private and news media helicopters.
Troops could then exit the helos establishing a standard 360-degree security perimeter, which they are already well trained to do, and assist civilians onto the helo. While the civilians are flown to pre-designated safe spots, the soldiers still on the ground at the landing zone could continue to ready additional passengers, search for survivors, and even quell lawlessness with lethal force (I realize there are some issues with the last use). The CH-47 would then return to do it all over again or pick up the platoon or squads and move on to another pre-identified landing zone to pick up more displaced persons.
The whole operation wouldn't have taken more than a couple of days and the city could have been more or less evacuated by now if organized and implemented promptly in the wake of the hurricane. (Of course, this scenario envisions an additional level of deployment of troops and resources to operate and assist the effort at the safe spots.)
But the 101st, while at base in Kentucky, is prepping for a September deployment to Iraq. Many of the soldiers of the 187 brigade for instance, are on block leave through the Labor Day weekend--their last time with family before they ship out to hazardous duty for more than a year. Deploying the 101st to Louisiana would also have a trickle down implications for other units in Iraq and elsewhere.
Most capability studies question the ability of the armed forces to fight multiple wars simultaneously. War games probably never calculated a simultaneous catastrophic national disaster into the scenario, but that is exactly what happened. At a time when military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia are stretching our nation’s ability to project military power, a national disaster struck, adding one more burden to be shouldered by the national command structure. Poor planning, dumb luck or just a highly improbably scenario--the poor and disenfranchised of New Orleans will pay the price of an over extended security apparatus.