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Louisiana Air Guard on ground to help in hurricane's wake

By Staff Sgt. Phuong Au | Louisiana National Guard | Sept. 16, 2020

CAMERON, La. – Airmen from the 159th Fighter Wing, Louisiana Air National Guard, deployed their Mobile Emergency Operations Center (MEOC) and set up government support teams (GSTs) in Cameron Parish in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura.

About 40 Airmen in six GSTs are working with local parish governments and the MEOC throughout the state to restore essential infrastructure and supply devastated communities with resources like food and water. The main objective is to be a liaison between the local government and National Guard to meet the needs of residents.

"Cameron Parish was ground zero of Hurricane Laura and has been completely devastated," said Lt. Col. Samuel K. Joplin, commander of the 122nd Fighter Squadron. "Nearly all of its 7,000 residents have evacuated, and a great deal of them are facing a total loss of their home. … I'm amazed at [my team's] ability to adapt to any situation. They've handled and they've done it all with an amazing amount of compassion and creativity. It's been really humbling to watch them work."

The six-man team in Cameron Parish has assisted local government by assessing damages and formulating potential recovery sites. Local emergency officials need communication capabilities to relay asset requests to gather essential items.

"The more that the LA ANG can aid the parish government with getting back on its feet and understanding the resources at the federal level, the sooner the parish can continue operations without additional support from the Guard," said Senior Master Sgt. Jeremiah K. Jones, 159th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.

A four-person MEOC team is ready to assist the GST to procure and allocate the resources for the parish to take care of its communities.

"We are here to support the GST and to provide communications and assets to this area because they have lost all communications and technology," said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Walker, the emergency manager of the 159 FW. "Assets like generators, vehicles … supplies for the local communities, [things needed] to clear roads. Pretty much any request that the parish needs to get back up and running so that they can get emergency crews through."

The resiliency within the Cameron Parish community is apparent to members of the GSTs as they assess the needs of the area.

"They're real humble people. It's hard to get them down," said Tech. Sgt. Wayne J. Pelingon, with the 159th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. "Seeing the stuff [that they lost] and the damage of the area, we are supposed to be assisting them, but they are trying to assist us and make sure that we're comfortable here."