U.S. Coast Guard Oral History Program

Katrina Archival & Historical Record Team (KART)

Hurricane Katrina, 2005

Interviewee: LTJG Amber Jack, USCG

Preparedness Department
National Strike Force Coordination Center

Interviewer: PACS Peter J. Capelotti, USCGR
Date of Interview:  6 October 2005
Place: Elizabeth City, North Carolina


Abstract:

LTJG Jack, who worked in the preparedness division of the NSF, was informed a few days after Hurricane Katrina hit that she would be assigned as one of two staging area managers for STA Pascagoula. LT Robert Gore was the lead manager. They where to set up a staging area in Pascagoula where the incident command post in Mobile, Ala., could send supplies that would be available for deployment when and where needed. On Sept. 2, they flew to Mobile where they checked in with the sector command. On their way to STA Pascagoula, they saw ships on the freeway and encountered debris on the bridge that leads onto the Navy base and the station. They arrived on Saturday and found the station’s boats conducting normal patrols. She and Gore began managing the supply needs of the station as well as Coast Guard Cutters Shamal and Tornado. More than half the personnel at the station had lost all their personal belongings. Jack and Gore ordered water, food, generators, clothes, cots, linens, etc. The station had been getting boat fuel from NOAA, so Jack and Gore arranged for the station to get its own fuel tank. Jack said that having staging managers onsite to handle the supply side definitely assisted station personnel who were overwhelmed with everything else, which included the station’s missions as well as their families’ needs. 


Q: Ma’am, if you could give me your name and rank and spell your last name.

LT Jack: Lieutenant (JG) Amber Jack; J-A-C-K.

Q: And could you give me just sort of a paragraph on your service and how you came to be in the Coast Guard; are you Academy, OCS, and how you got to be here?

LT Jack: Okay, I went to the Academy. I graduated in 2002 and from there I went to the Coast Guard Cutter Northland. It’s in Portsmouth Virginia. I was there for two years and then came here. I’ve been here a little over a year.

Q: And what’s your job here?

LT Jack: I’m in the Preparedness Department and we plan exercises.

Q: When were you told that you might be responding to Katrina?

LT Jack: That we might be responding; pretty much right after it happened. It happened on a Monday morning and we were told . . . I didn’t come into work that Monday, I was on leave, but I came in that Tuesday and that was when it was all around the office and everybody was saying, “Oh, we might be going”. So it was really that Tuesday and then we ended up finding out we were going for sure Thursday evening and we flew out Friday evening.

Q: And where did you go?

LT Jack: We flew into Mobile, Alabama and we checked into the Sector there, which was the Incident Command Post and from there we went to Pascagoula, Mississippi.

Q: Were you in the same group with Lieutenant Gore?

LT Jack: Yes I was.

Q: And what did you find when you got there?

LT Jack: In Mobile?

Q: In Pascagoula?

LT Jack: In Pascagoula; we went to Coast Guard Station Pascagoula, which is on a Navy base. The Navy base was in pretty bad shape. There’s a big bridge that you have to drive over to get to the base and there was a ton of debris on the bridge and we could tell that the water had risen that high and that’s where all the debris came from, so that was pretty bad. And then there was a parking lot that had people’s cars in it - just like sailors that were out on deployment - and the water had risen but the people at the Station said it rose four feet and so all the cars were just floating around and the wind was knocking them into each other, so all those cars . . . .

Q: You saw this?

LT Jack: Oh yes, we took pictures of it [chuckle].

Q: So they were all floating around when you got there?

LT Jack: No, no, no, they weren’t floating around.

Q: But they had dried out by then and were just sort of sitting there?

LT Jack: Yes, they were all just smashed into each other. 

Q: Sailboats after a hurricane.

LT Jack: Yes, and even on the way from Mobile to Pascagoula we saw ships sitting on the road; on the freeway [chuckle], boats.

Q: Have you ever responded to or been in the aftermath of a hurricane before?

LT Jack: Well Hurricane Isabel came through this area in 2003 I believe it was; September of 2003, and so I went through that here but it was nothing like what we saw there. 

Q: What were you asked to do once you got to Pascagoula? What needed to be done and what was your part of it?

LT Jack: I was with Lieutenant Gore. It was the two of us that went to Pascagoula and we were Staging Area Managers. He was the Staging Area Manager and I was helping him and we got supplies and whatever they needed down there. Mostly we were working with the Station and then Coast Guard Cutter Shamal and Coast Guard Cutter Tornado got in contact with us because they’re also stationed in Pascagoula because their guys had lost a lot as well, so we worked with them and we worked with the Station. 

Q: What were they asking for I mean other then everything?

LT Jack: Yes, everything. I think more than half the guys at the Station had lost everything and half the guys on - I can’t remember if it was the Tornado or the Shamal but one of them told me that, “Half of our guys lost everything”. So they needed everything; clothes, and we got them cots and linens and food, water, chain saws and generators.

Q: Was there anything in your Coast Guard experience to this point that had prepared you or training that you’ve gone through; Preparedness Training and so forth that helped you out in this situation? 

LT Jack: Well I knew, because of my ICS training I knew what a Staging Area Manager was supposed to do.

Q: Which was what?

LT Jack: Just manage an area where the Incident Command Post can send supplies and it’ll be there for deployment whenever anybody needs it, so I knew that role. I know pretty well the ICS structure and systems so I knew that if we needed cots we needed to call the logistics section and tell them, “This is what we need”, and then they would go through their . . . .

Q: And the logistics section was back in Mobile?

LT Jack: It was.

Q: And so how did you commulicate with Mobile; what kind of communications did you have?

LT Jack: When we arrived in Mobile they provided us with Southern Link Phones and they had like the Ready Link walkie-talkie type of thing and that worked. Southern Link had . . . they were one of the first cell phone systems to get re-established and that’s mainly how we contacted the logistics section and then I also had a personal cell phone and Lieutenant Gore also had a personal cell phone, so if the Ready Link; the Southern Link wasn’t working then we’d use our cell phones. 

Q: Yes, and how did this stuff find its way to you?

LT Jack: All the equipment and all the supplies; mostly on . . . well we got a couple of big shipments on flatbed trailers. Some of the smaller stuff came in like just trucks and normal, like an F-150 truck. 

Q: Were you in the area when the Navy, was it the Navy or the Marines, sent some of their forces ashore? Was that anywhere near you folks in Mississippi?

LT Jack: Not that I’m aware of.

Q: How long were you there?

LT Jack: Nine days.

Q: And by the time you left what was the status of the Station and PC-179?

LT Jack: The Station was pretty much . . . they were doing well and we checked with them a few times just to verify, “Are you sure you don’t need us here”, and they said, “No, we can handle it”. They had the supplies they needed. They were still out doing their normal Coast Guard patrols and I didn’t have as much contact with the Shamal and the Tornado but I did let them know that we were moving out and if they needed anything I gave them Lieutenant Harris’s phone number. He was the Logistics Section Chief . . .

Q: In Mobile.

LT Jack: . . . in Mobile. 

Q: Had the Station trucked their boats inland and brought them back? I mean how did their boats survive?

LT Jack: I have no idea.

Q: But they were up and running within a few days?

LT Jack: Yes.

Q: How were they getting fuel?

LT Jack: They were doing their thing when we got there and we got there, we showed up to the Station there Saturday evening and they were doing patrols and everything. I don’t know how long after the hurricane they started their patrols. They were getting fuel from NOAA actually. There’s a NOAA boat in Pascagoula and the NOAA boat was helping out the Coast Guard in giving us fuel so that we could go do patrols, or so the Station could. 

Q: Is it a Warrant or a Chief who’s in charge of that Station?

LT Jack: It’s a Senior Chief. 

Q: Yes.

LT Jack: Yes, and then we, as the Staging Areas Managers we were able to get them their own fuel tank. So we got them a fuel tank and then they were able to use that to fuel their boat.

Q: Did it make a difference for them having a Coast Guard officer there almost as like a Supply Officer instead of having to try and go get that stuff themselves, you know sending your 3rd Class or 2nd Class out to get it?

LT Jack: Definitely, I think so definitely because . . . well I think the main thing was they were so overwhelmed by everything they kind of didn’t know where to start to start asking for stuff. So we came in and we said, “We’re here for you guys. Tell us what you need we’ll get it”, so that they wouldn’t even have to worry about that so they could just try and focus on their homes, their families, their jobs; trying to go out and do their patrols and not worry about, you know, that they were about to run out of toilet paper or [chuckle], you know, so we could take care of that for them.

Q: Is there anything else that we haven’t covered that you want to discuss? 

LT Jack: I did a real brief summary . . . I can give this to you actually if you don’t have it already. I gave this to my supervisor and it was just real brief like dates, accommodations provided, and I’ll give it to you. 

Let’s see, the one thing that I said in here (in the written summary) and this has more to do with lessons learned as far as the command structure in Mobile and I realize that things were kind of slow to get rolling but that’s just because we were there the first week and that’s just how it is.

Q: Yes.

LT Jack: And I realize that but that would be my complaint or my lesson learned is that whenever we’d go to the Command Post they would end up saying, “Okay, yes, we’ll do that. We’ll do that for you”, and then we’d end up sitting around (waiting on the ICP) just because it was the first week and they were still trying to figure everything out themselves. (It wasted a lot of time is the point I’m trying to convey…)

Q: Sure.

LT Jack: Yes, that was my complaint.

Q: Well Ma’am, thank you, I appreciate it very much. 

END OF INTERVIEW


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Last Modified 4/24/2013