ARLINGTON, Va. - When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast one year ago, it triggered the largest and fastest disaster response in the National Guard's 369-year history.
At a July NAACP event, Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, recalled rallying the support of adjutants general of 54 states and territories, who quickly provided troops and equipment.
"They kept sending it until [we] said stop," Blum told the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "Nobody asked how are we being paid [or] how long we're going to be there. That's why I'm proud to be the chief of the National Guard Bureau. I don't think there is a finer organization wearing the uniform of this nation."
Within four hours of the storm, troops were in the water, on the streets and in the air saving lives, and the National Guard would be lauded in congressional hearings as the most organized, well-prepared agency responding to the disaster.
In an operation resembling the Berlin Airlift, 58,000 National Guard Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen poured into the stricken area, more than three times the number of Guard members deployed to any previous natural disaster.
All this while 79,000 Guard were in federal service for the war on terrorism.
Every state in the union and every territory contributed to the National Guard's response to Hurricane Katrina. "There is not a single National Guard entity that did not make a contribution," Blum told congressional investigators. "When you called out the Guard for Katrina, you called out all of America."
The National Guard had more than three times as many troops on the ground as all other services combined, and those troops rescued more than 17,000 people and evacuated 70,000. The Air National Guard evacuated more than 2,500 people with medical needs, treated more than 8,000 patients in expeditionary medical support facilities and flew 3,350 sorties.
The National Guard response to the storm came in a year in which more Citizen-Soldiers were deployed to more places for longer periods than during any year since World War II.
"This was our finest hour," Blum has said of the hurricane response.