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U.S. Coast Guard Oral History Program

Katrina Archival & Historical Record Team (KART)

Hurricane Katrina, 2005

Interviewee: CWO3 Robert D. Lewald, USCG

Commanding Officer, USCGC Pamlico (WLIC-800)


Interviewer: ET1 Monica McCormack
Date of Interview: 17 October 2005
Place: Gulfport, Mississippi


CWO Robert D. Lewald at the helm of the CGC Pamlico

CWO Robert Lewald, commanding officer of CGC Pamlico, is shown at the Pamlico's helm while underway conducting Hurricane Rita AtoN repairs on the ICW, just east of Intercoastal City, Louisiana.


Abstract:

Prior to a storm, the CGC Pamlico (WLIC-800) normally heads up the Mississippi River, so by August 26 they were planning to gather their fleet and head up river to Baton Rouge .  Eight 41-foot patrol boats, three 55-foot boats and the CGC Clamp (WLIC-75306), all from Sector New Orleans, met Pamlico and they all sailed to Baton Rouge together. On Monday evening after the storm, the Coast Guard representative at the Baton Rouge command center told Lewald to go down river and see what they would find.  On Tuesday evening as they got closer to New Orleans they could see blown out windows, smoke, and fires.  The U.S. Navy had to move approximately 100 people from the east bank to the west bank so Pamlico moved Navy personnel and civilians.  Pamlico later went to Saint Bernard Parish, where so much water had rushed in that it stood 12-feet high.  They moved approximately 2,000 people and provided security at the ferry landing. “There were bad people everywhere.”  There were roving gangs.  They had encounters with armed people and had to draw their weapons on several occasions.  Lewald was threatened personally and had his own body guard for a period.  A lot of people showed up with gunshot wounds.  They confiscated about 500-600 weapons and large quantities of alcohol and drugs.  They had to dump the drugs and alcohol into the water because they had no way to secure them.  In all he and his command saved thousands of lives in a completely improvised and dangerous environment.

Quote: "That’s the nice thing about the Coast Guard; we don’t really need to talk a lot.  I think that’s why a lot of the other agencies had problems because they rely so much on command and control.  Our culture is a little bit different.  You know a couple words pass between a couple of sailors and the job gets done."

" It was the Wild West."

The following is a written transcript of the interview.  Click here to watch and listen to the actual interview.


Q: Okay, could you please state your name, your rate, your time in service, and could you spell your last name please?

CWO3 Lewald: Sure. I’m Robert David Lewald and I go by David.  My last name is L-E-W-A-L-D. 
I’ve got 20 years in. 

I’m a Warrant Boatswain.  I was a quartermaster before I was Boatswain.

Q: CWO . . .?

CWO3 Lewald: Three.

Q: Three. And what is your career path?

CWO3 Lewald: Well I started off on an WHEC; the Ingham. It was an old steam-driven ship. It was great. I went to quartermaster school. I went to an WMEC up in Kodiak; the Yocona. From there I went to a 110 in Woods Hole; the Monomoy. From Monomoy I went to my first black hull; the Red Oak, in Philadelphia. After the Red Oak I went back to Monomoy for another tour. From Monomoy I went to James Rankin, a new 175, commissioned it out of Marinette and took it to Baltimore. I left James Rankin – I made warrant off of James Rankin - and went to the Sedge in Homer, Alaska, retired it after a year and then we commissioned the Hickory and brought it around back up to Homer from Marinette. Then I took command of Pamlico here in [20]04. 

Q: When were you initially alerted about participating in the Katrina operations?

CWO3 Lewald: Well we live on the Gulf Coast so really the first of June we start watching . . . [chuckle], you know The Weather Channel has gone Hollywood on us but we watch The Weather Channel.  We have internet sites that we watch.  We start tracking water temps in the Gulf.  
So anyway, Katrina first showed up on our radar, so to speak, I want to say it was; landfall was on Monday.  On Wednesday I started getting a little concerned about its projected path.  So that must have been right around the 23rd of August we started keeping an eye on Katrina and by Friday the 26th of August we were already making plans to gather up our fleet and head up river.

Q: And what were the preparations that you were making?

CWO3 Lewald: Well typically what Pamlico does is we head up river in the big storms.  So my rule of thumb is Category 2 and larger we’ll start heading up the Mississippi River and we’ll determine how far we go by its projected landfall.  In Katrina we decided really early on that we were going to go to Baton Rouge. 

The other prep that we had to make is the cutter Axe.  The cutter itself is actually being overhauled in Baltimore.  Their barge is huge here so I’m responsible for their barge right now.  So we had to go grab it - it was in Sector New Orleans - put it in tow and then all of the 41s and 55s from all of the Sector New Orleans units kind of gathered up, met me on the Mississippi River and we went up together. 

My old homeport used to be ISC New Orleans and so ISC did a lot of dockside work for ships and cutters, and so the Clamp was in trying to get some work done.  They had just gotten out of the yard and so Clamp was on one generator so they wanted to go up with us too just in case they had more engine problems or whatnot, so they limped along with us.  So on this particular case the sector called me up and said, “You’re PATCOM.”  We had eight 41-footers, one of which was OOC so it was being towed, three 55s and the Clamp.

Q: Now OOC means “Out of Commission”?

CWO3 Lewald: “Out of Commission”, I’m sorry, yes.

Q: That’s okay.

CWO3 Lewald: Well what it was, it was in a major overhaul.  The whole cabin top was being replaced and that actual boat comes back into play for their own story.

Q: Okay. So you went up to Baton Rouge?

CWO3 Lewald: We went up to Baton Rouge, about Mile 235 on the river.

Q: And waited the storm out?

CWO3 Lewald: Right. It showed up Monday morning right on time.  Seven o’clock the winds started picking up.  The max sustained we had was 55 knots.  We had some gusts of about 75 out of the northeast.

Q: After the storm blew through who did you initially report to and what were you tasked to do?

CWO3 Lewald: Well Monday evening I was talking to the Coast Guard reps in Baton Rouge at the Emergency Command Center there.  The sector will evacuate to Alexandria and set up an IMT there.  Basically it’s an Incident Management Team and all that and that’s their headquarters.  I was talking to Baton Rouge; a Coast Guard rep in the state office of Baton Rouge, you know really not much communications at all.  That’s the nice thing about the Coast Guard; we don’t really need to talk a lot.  I think that’s why a lot of the other agencies had problems because they rely so much on command and control.  Our culture is a little bit different.  You know a couple words pass between a couple of sailors and the job gets done.  So what I was told was, “Hey, why don’t you go on back downriver”, obviously, “and see what you can do”, you know, “see what’s going on down there.”  And so being a good Coastie I just took that as find a mission of opportunity and that’s what we did.

Q: Okay, and what did you do exactly?

CWO3 Lewald: Well we made it down. Well Monday was the storm so Tuesday we left out of Baton Rouge; Tuesday morning, and went downriver. Obviously the further downriver we got the worse things were with barges up on the banks and ships up on the banks; on the levees, so you could see how much of a surge there really was. All the trees . . . on going up Saturday . . . the river is beautiful and especially that time of year it’s very green and, well it’s just the trees are all 30 and 40 feet high. It was completely different. It was like coming down in the middle of the winter and all those trees that were 30 and 40 feet are now ten feet because they’re all broken over. So it went from being very green to being very brown and then all the, like I said, all the tugs and barges and ships up on the levees. 

And as we got further down to town we pulled in, it was about 1800; six o’clock in the evening Tuesday night, and you could start to see all the blown out windows in downtown. We call the downtown area the CBD; Central Business District, you know Crescent City. You know the river does that nice little loop there. You could just really see what was going on and you could start seeing smoke and fires and whatnot. And we got a call from the Navy. There’s a Navy facility called Naval Support Activity and they have an East Bank and West Bank facility, and when I talk about East and West Banks I’m talking about the left and right hand sides of the river. They said that they had about 100 people over on their East Bank side that they needed to get over the West Bank and could we help. I said, “Sure, absolutely.” So we took three of the 55s - the 55s because they’re little bit bigger - and the 41s and we got all of those 100 people over. There was about 40 Navy and about 60 civilian. We later found out those civilians were actually at the gate trying to get out of downtown because remember at this point the 17th Street levee was breaking and so was the levee on the Industrial Canal flooding the 9th Ward. So all those levees were starting to break and the water was starting to rise so you know the worst nightmare was coming true. So we thought the Navy was helping evacuate the civilians. They weren’t. They were just dealing with these 60 that came to their gate and all they did was usher them through their West Bank facility and threw them out in the street in Algiers. 

 So that’s when we realized that some of the news reports that we were getting about the levees and all that were actually true; a lot of false reporting going on, a lot of people guessing, so that’s when we realized it was not looking too good. Later that night I was getting yelled at on the radio, to be honest with you, by a company owner just up river on the West Bank from the Navy base because the Navy - remember I said they shoved those people out their gate - well now these people are walking along the levee on the West Bank and I said, “Well why did you just throw those people out on the street?” “These are criminals.” You know he was all upset with me. Another ferry boat captain from the Crescent City Ferry overheard this and he knew that we were there and he said, “Would you be willing to help out with the evacuation of St. Bernard Parish”, and I mean, “Absolutely.” Like I said, a mission of opportunity, you know, search and rescue, that’s what we do. So we ended up doing that. I asked the Navy for permission to use that West Bank facility and they actually . . . I don’t mean to slam anybody but they said, “No”, and I’ll talk a little bit more about that in a minute. But it’s a form of shock, I think, that the base CO just was in shock and he just couldn’t absorb it. Evacuees on a barge He couldn’t absorb the concept of evacuating folks. So we said, “Sure, we absolutely would do that.” He had three ferries at his disposal and the next day we found a tug and barge with a deck barge that we could also move people with so we started to use the Algiers ferry landing as our West Bank. The East Bank was flooded, the West Bank was high and dry, and that was basically what we were doing. I met with the St. Bernard Parish sheriff and set up and we started moving people on that Wednesday morning and we moved from the East Bank at the Chalmette ferry and the Chalmette slip that first day on Wednesday - I’m sorry I have to keep looking at my notes – and we moved about 2,000 people. And the floodwaters over there in St. Bernard were about 12 foot at that point. It rushed in.

Q: Once the people went from the one bank to the other bank where did they go?

CWO3 Lewald: Well the St. Bernard Parish sheriff and the IMT were there. Their emergency folks were down there. The civilians were working on buses. So we had buses coming to Algiers; the ferry terminal. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough buses. So also that . . . I’m sorry, that first day was strictly buses. The only helicopters we used were to get the really, really hurt and sick people out. We had some very, very, very hurt people on that Wednesday. Actually everyday we had bad people but that first day we got some Coast Guard helicopters and some National Guard helicopters. We were able to wave them in. Does that answer your question?

Q: Yes.  And you just basically did your rescue in this area; you didn’t go anywhere other than here?

CWO3 Lewald: Right. Well because the 41s and the 55s and Pamlico with Clamp, you know we don’t have a lot of deck space.

Q: Right.

CWO3 Lewald: So what we did is we let the St. Bernard Parish sheriff’s office set up over on the East Bank.  They’re the ones that were going out into the town in the flood punts and whatnot and getting people, putting them onto the ferries and into that barge and bringing them upriver.  It’s probably maybe a three-mile run upriver.  Then we would offload them at the ferry.  And what we did was provide security at the ferry landing.  There were bad people everywhere; people with guns. We can talk more about that in a minute.  And then we did triage there because these folks were in a bad way.  When we used the barge I sent 41 footers alongside because there wasn’t any kind of safety beltline or anything, it was just a deck barge.

Q: Right.

CWO3 Lewald: We went over. There was a grounded ferry that was up on the levee. We took all the life jackets off of that ferry so that everybody on that deck barge was going to have a life jacket.

Q: Did you all do any safety briefings prior to starting?

CWO3 Lewald: Again, you know GAR [phonetic] models and all of that and all of that kind of stuff, it’s so ingrained now, you know everybody is pretty used to working on the fly. And obviously the master chief and I, we talked about the barge and it wasn’t really a great platform but it moved 500 people at a time, whereas these ferries are about 150/200 at a time. A ferry is set up to move people so there really isn’t a safety concern on a ferry, that’s its job. The barge, we did talk about that and that’s why we had the 41s trailing them and that’s why we went and got the life jackets. So we talked about that and we also, you know on the pier we talked about handling of people. I’ve never touched that many people in my life; physically touched people. I know that I touched at least a thousand people; physically touched them, and with that there is inherent.

Q: Now with the 41 footers, the boat crews are armed. You all don’t carry weapons, do you?

CWO3 Lewald: No. 

Q: So how did you deal with the bad people?

CWO3 Lewald: Well Station Venice, when they evacuated the 41 they put their armory on us so we actually had a fair amount of weapons. At Algiers we set up a perimeter. There’s a road in and a road out basically. Each end of the road we put sentries and then we had roving guards going through the crowd and then we also had a couple sharpshooters placed. We only operated at daylight. We did not own the night there. And so at nighttime we had to shut down operations, bring everybody back on the boats and move the fleet off the bank and slid back down and in the morning go retake the pier.

Q: Did you have any encounters with armed people?

CWO3 Lewald: Yes. Several police cars throughout the whole thing were stolen and so our lines were challenged by that. They would drive up, you know, and once they got a little bit closer it definitely wasn’t a policeman in that police car, so they would do that and we would have to draw, and they’d see that we were serious and they would turn and go. A lot of times they’d come up to our lines saying, “Hey, hey, right around the corner there’s a guy who’s hurting. He needs help, he needs help.” What they were trying to do was lure us out. They wanted the weapons and they wanted to see if they couldn’t lure us out and overwhelm us. So we quickly instituted a rule of the ferry building was kind of like our home base. We said, “You will not leave sight of the ferry building; of the ferry terminal.” 

And then the third thing that we did was a lot of people came into our lines with gunshot wounds and I figured that they were either running away from bad guys or they themselves were bad guys and they were shot because they were looting, and I think it was about a 50/50 on those. All together there were about a dozen gunshot wounds.

Q: Did you confiscate any weapons?

CWO3 Lewald: We set up . . . unfortunately over on the Chalmette side the sheriff’s department was not searching or anything so when the ferry landed we had amnesty boxes and we said, “Alcohol, illegal narcotics and weapons go into the boxes, no questions asked”, and then at the top of the landing we said, “And up there we’re going to search you.” So, “Down here, no questions asked, up there we’re going to talk some more.” So those boxes filled up quick and it’s just a conservative estimate of probably 5/600 weapons, you know, firearms. I’m told a number of knives. And the booze, you know, it’s New Orleans. We took the booze off of them and a lot of drugs, a lot of drugs, and all that went into the river. I didn’t want it around. I couldn’t safeguard it so we just dumped it in the river. I was giving the New Orleans Police Department the weapons on the first day; the guns, but then at one point during the day I looked over and the cop car’s trunk was open and he’s handing out the pistols to all of his buddies, and I wrote here in my write-up of Pamlico’s log summary that they were sharing the booty and so we stopped and the rest of the pistols went with Clamp over to Texas. The reason why I was so hot and heavy about keeping those pistols and whatnot, besides the obvious, was I wanted to let the police departments or ATF, some of these guns might get linked to crimes later on down the road. There’s obviously no custody chain but at least maybe it would answer a question or something, so pretty hairy stuff. It was the Wild West.

Q: It sounds like it. I find it unbelievable that people actually behaved in that manner.

CWO3 Lewald: Yes. There were roving gangs, especially on Thursday and Friday going through the crowd because we were waiting on buses. And I’m the oldest, grayest and I had the most radios so I looked like the authority figure and there were some attempts and threats on me. And Thursday night we got an MSST down; an MSST NOLA; Marine Security and Safety Team, a 9/11 baby, and those kids are good! And the chief parked a guard on me and he said, “You’re with the Warrant”, and so I had my own little bodyguard there for a while and it was kind of cool because what I was doing was moving through the crowd to try to calm folks down because, you know 100 plus degrees, no shelter, no food, no water. We were just a way-station on their next step and we were waiting for buses. 

And one of the days we finally got a helicopter in, actually two of them. 53s are the big, huge helicopters that the back opens up. Have you ever seen them? 

Q: Yes.

CWO3 Lewald: Well they saw us and we had made an LZ for medivacs and we had used our construction paint to mark off the LZ. This thing comes down and it just kicks rocks up everywhere and everybody’s just covered in the dirt, and I said, “It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever seen”. And out gets this guy, he’s got to be like 6’8”.

Q: [Laughter].

CWO3 Lewald: His helmet’s this big. So you know it’s the biggest helicopter and the biggest guy and he’s patting me on the head and he said, “I want 50 people per helicopter and don’t make me wait.” “Aye aye”, you know, and they just, nonstop between here and the New Orleans airport we moved probably a thousand people.

Q: Now what does LZ stand for?

CWO3 Lewald:
“Landing Zone”, sorry.

Q: That’s okay.

CWO3 Lewald: And you know obviously this was the biggest air rescue ever in the history of aviation that I know of.

Q: Did you ever expect in your Coast Guard experience; your Coast Guard career, to become the type of law enforcement detachment you became because of Katrina?

CWO3 Lewald: Well I had done a lot of LE; Law Enforcement, in my career.

Q: But it’s normally out to sea, it’s not all ashore.

CWO3 Lewald: Yes, this was different in that respect. Nothing about Katrina, nothing about that first week would I have ever expected. No, there was no way to even do that. The sector commander asked, he asked, “How did we do this? How did the Coast Guard . . . what is it in our culture that made us be able to switch gears and just go in and do that”, and to be honest with you I think I’m a fairly intelligent man but I have no idea. I have no idea how we did it. All I know is, is that every one of the sailors that was with me saw what needed to be done and just did it, and then they usually came up to me and said, “Hey, I just did this”, and I was like, “That’s cool, that’s great.”

Q: That’s exactly the same thing almost word for word that every CO has said.

CWO3 Lewald: I think that’s the only way we survived and I would like to believe that Admiral Allen was named in charge because of what we were doing, not just Pamlico but what they were doing over on the lakeside and what they were doing over in Zephyr Field. I remember a colonel coming in and, you know, typical “Argh argh argh”, you know and, “I heard the only place that’s squared away and the only evacuation center that is working properly is the one over here run by the Coasties”, and “Argh, argh”, and off he went again [chuckle]. “Do you have any food and water?” If you don’t have that go away [chuckle].

Q: Were you able to remain within Coast Guard operational guidelines?

CWO3 Lewald: Certainly.

Q: No rules were broken?

CWO3 Lewald: Oh no, not at all! Yes, obviously.

Q: I know.

CW03 Lewald: But the guidelines I think are written such that . . . I get 50 dollars extra a month pay to be in command and that’s taxable so it’s about 35 dollars a month, and they’re going to get their money’s worth out of that 35 dollars. They pay me to look at the situation and say, “You know this . . .”, for example; fatigue standards for small boats. I flew through those so fast, you know.

Q: That’s probably why the Coast Guard was able to act in the way they did because the Coast Guard gives their commanding officers the leeway to bend the rules a little bit. The other services don’t.

CWO3 Lewald: Yes.  I had very spotty comms and I remember talking to the surface officer from Sector; Lieutenant Commander Purvis, and I remember standing up on the flying bridge with one phone like this trying to get good cell phone coverage and, “This is what I’m doing. This is what I’ve been doing. This is how I’m doing it. Shall I carry on” and he’s like, “Yes.” [Chuckle]

Q: Did you all have any of the SAT phones down here?

CWO3 Lewald: Finally I did. When we went downriver, after everybody had gotten evacuated we went downriver to do an ATN at the mouth, down by Venice, and I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to fly over Venice or not.

Q: A little bit.

CWO3 Lewald: But that’s really nasty down there and it’s going to be a long time. I mean New Orleans, obviously more people are involved but the total devastation down there is incredible. 
To answer your question, there was a DRT – the DRT team is the Disaster Response Team from St. Louis - and they were kind enough to give me their SAT phone before we went down there. So I had a little handheld SAT phone.

Q: So it definitely improved your communications?

CWO3 Lewald: Well that was the only comms I had. 

Q: When you were coming back downriver from Baton Rouge were you prepared for the devastation that you actually saw?

CWO3 Lewald: Yes, certainly. You know I’ve been through storms. I was stationed twice up in Alaska. I know what wind can do. I was in the perfect storm in New England. I know, I mean Hurricane Bob; I’ve done hurricanes, and Katrina, Katrina contracted right before it hit land and you could just see it. And watching it on the satellite TV you could just see that this one really was going to do it.

Q: What was the mood of you and your crew when you actually returned here and saw you pretty much had nothing left?

CWO3 Lewald: Yes, we talked a little bit earlier about that CO from the Navy base. There’s varying levels of shock . You know I love watching people and so there were folks that had to go do something.  So there was a lot of fidgeting, a lot of guys going down and working on the engines [chuckle].  You know it didn’t need anything to be done but they were down there just tightening and working so that’s a form of coping I guess.  There were some folks that were just glued to the TV, just absorbing that. I think the worst thing was the guys not being able to talk to their families. So there was that real concern of, “Where is my family?”  They knew that they were safe but they knew that they were still wanting to know.  So there was that.  Then there were a couple folks that were – I don’t have the right word – not lethargic but just kind of a little spacey, and so for me and the two chiefs that are onboard here, it’s just a matter of finding something for those kinds of guys to do.  You know you’re going to put them to work. 

I think the shock and awe was on Tuesday afternoon but we were so busy through the following Monday that no one really had a chance.  We did get a CISM team down. CISM is the Crisis Incident Management . . . its counselors.  We got some counselors down on Algiers.  I want to say that that was on Saturday night.  It was Saturday night.  And then we had a mass on Sunday morning on the ferry landing.  The chaplain from D-9 came down and I’ve forgotten his name.  Unfortunately I’ve lost a lot of really important people’s names.  So anyway, it was very nice.  And so there was varying levels.  I’ll be honest with you.  I remember one time I had to kind of like go behind the levee just to kind of have a private time and just kind of chill for a little bit.

Q: I think most of these questions you’ve already answered.  How were you and your crew’s families affected by the storm?  How many of you lost your homes entirely, partially?

CWO3 Lewald: Yes, the XO lost everything, everything.  And on top of that his wife was very, very pregnant and in the stress the baby dropped and so we got him off on Saturday; flew him out from downtown off the deck of the Spencer, and he’s in Nevada.  And to be honest with you I’ve been able to Shang-hi help to fill in for him and I have no intention on bringing him back until he’s settled.

Q: Wife and baby doing alright?

CWO3 Lewald: Yes, they had a baby boy on Monday; this past Monday, and we were all trying to talk him into naming him Storm.

Q: [Laughter].

CWO3 Lewald: But anyway, there’s that. 
My house was severely damaged and I was able to finally get some time off here last week, you know six weeks after the storm, to go home there. Somebody had put on . . . probably flying around you’ll see all the blue tarps on everybody’s roofs, you know, so I’ve got a blue roof now.

Q: So one of your neighbors put the tarp on for you?

CWO3 Lewald: Yes, I live in a great neighborhood and so my neighbors did take care of me pretty good.  So my family is . . . I lived in Bay St. Louis so that was pretty much ground zero.  So they’re up there.  I’m not bringing them back probably until the end of the school year. 
We had a couple guys that were on the Navy base on the West Bank; slight tree damage, but one of the families is not allowed back in because they’re using it as a staging point for the National Guard so his family is in Florida.  The MKC, his house had a lot of trees on it and some roof damage but his family is back in it.

Q: What kind of assistance are you all receiving?

CWO3 Lewald: Well you know we were down . . . at first none because we were just unreachable and I think that was really eating at our logistics and our . . . the YNs have been fantastic to us; the Yeomen, and the lieutenant that’s in charge of them is fantastic. And I think it [Interview Interrupted] . . . . they couldn’t get down and give us any help. They couldn’t meet with us. They were on the satellite phone which is a terrible way to try to communicate very specific information. We did have a D-1 attorney fly in down to Venice. I don’t want to record this but really quick; this is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Out of Alexandria there’s a master chief. He and I go way back. And when they were talking about getting us ATN supplies down in Venice I said . . . .

Q: What’s his name?

CWO3 Lewald: Master Chief David Coffeman a fantastic guy. Anyway, I said, “You know I don’t want you just sending down ATN supplies. We need morale gear down here. I want horseshoes”, and I said, “up to and including beer. There’s nothing here. You know we want to have some off time.” And Master Chief arranged and flew in a barbeque with two cooks; two chefs from Alexandria; two private civilian chefs. For one hundred people he flew it in on a chartered helicopter and we had a Texas style barbeque in the middle of the ruins of Station Venice. It was the most delicious thing I’ve ever had. But with that came an attorney. That’s what made me remember that. The attorney helped us out and gave us some of the information that we needed to know about; Red Cross, FEMA, ways for our families to be able to contact these organizations for us. We were, you know, there were no comms, no way. There’s no internet connectivity on ship because we’re so low on the totem pole as far as getting that kind of stuff. And when we finally got back up river right before Rita came we talked to the support folks real quick and then we had to evacuate with all those boats again for Rita. So when we got back from Rita, PAM, at that point, had run a thousand hours and we really needed to moor the ship up, not just the crew but the ship needed help; maintenance. So we moored it up and just turned it off [laughter] and shut her down, and then the Yeomen showed up and we got the ball rolling on a lot of comm stuff.

Q: How is the storm going to affect your job; what your boat does, for the next six to eight months?

CWO3 Lewald: Well we had just finished cleaning up after Ivan, and Cindy and Dennis hit and we had just finished cleaning up from Cindy and Dennis when Katrina hit. Everything we built between Katrina and Rita actually survived Rita, which is a blessing. I’m looking at probably six, maybe a year, nine months more likely of three weeks on and one week off. That’s the schedule I’d like to run. I’m getting support up my chain of command for that. So one week a month the boat will be inport somewhere. We lost our homeport. The city of Mandeville has invited us, is going to allow us to go there, which is convenient for the crew that still have homes that they can go home to. Everything is gone so we’re starting from scratch. Nothing survived so we have to build every aid. So we’re looking at . . . Pamlico is probably going to build 6/700 aids this year.

Q: Personally, how many aids are you responsible for?

CWO3 Lewald:  Well I’m actually not responsible for a single aid.  All the aids to navigation teams are but when they get knocked over we have to come back and build them. So there are probably 2,000 in Sector New Orlean’s AOR I think.  For some reason that number stands out in my head and a lot of those are on land or they’re buoys that somebody else will do.  I’m figuring about 1,200 aids that Pamlico would have to build and we’ve gotten a lot of help from other units.  The Hatchet came in.  The Clamp came over.  Both of those are Texas boats.  The Hudson from Miami came over and built a whole bunch for us and the Saginaw out of Mobile helped us out too. 

Q: Did you get any TAD personnel to come over here and let you have time off?

CWO3 Lewald:  Lots.  Remember I was talking about the Axe.  Their crew has been spread out helping a lot of boats.  We had their cook.  Their XPO came on.  He was one of the rotating folks that filled in for my XPO.  We had one of their firemen onboard.  I’m probably going to ask for that continued members of the Axe to allow some of our guys to take a week off here and there.  We have a BM2 that’s expecting a baby right around Thanksgiving so I want to be able to get him off.  And then we had another guy TAD from Hawaii.  We’ve had folks from the D-1, the 1st District, the 5th District and the 9th District. We’ve had them from all over.

Q: What was the biggest challenge that you had to face during this whole process?

CWO3 Lewald: People safety.  We had one fellow who fell and cut his arm pretty bad right here; his elbow, right in the midst of it all; that nightmare, and we were able to drive him to a hospital in the middle of the night, you know, bullets flying. And just keeping everybody safe.  Down in Venice that floodwater is, a friend of mine calls it “Poo Soup”, you know . . .

Q: [Laughter].

CWO3 Lewald: . . . and it’s the nastiest stuff you ever want to deal with.  And there were dead animals.  There’s a lot of ranching going on down in Venice so we had dead cows everywhere.  Nutria is like a big huge rat.  There are dead rats everywhere.  So keeping everybody healthy and safe, that was the big challenge.  And we only had the one accident.

Q: That’s very good.

CWO3 Lewald: Yes.

Q: Is there anything else that you want to cover that I haven’t asked you?

CWO3 Lewald: Well you know you hear a lot of really bad things on the news and I don’t have a lot of positive things to say about the New Orleans Police Department.  I did meet some individual police officers that were pretty good.  So I guess my point is throughout all the bad there’s a lot of good too.  Over, like I said, Mandeville has welcomed us over there and that first week we were there it seemed like there was about 15 cakes at a time on the mess deck.  People were just making us cakes and bringing them to us.  So there were some really good things.  I remember one lady yelling at me in Algiers for handing her a warm bottle of water and this was the first day that we had water to be able to hand out, you know, and I remember thinking, “Well she just lost everything”, and so some of the anger that you saw on the news was, again, a type of shock, if you will, or a type of coping. 

CGC Pamlico's commissioning plaque I told the guys before that fleet disbanded in Algiers that, “Make sure you remember this.  Make sure you remember what you did and keep those mental pictures because it will stay with you for your life, and it should.”  So that’s really it.  That’s all I have to add.

Q: Do you want to say anything about your electronics [laughter]?

CWO3 Lewald: Yes.  Well I think it’s a testimony that these are good boats and we’re holding it together with bailing wires.

Q: All done?

CWO3 Lewald: All done.

END OF INTERVIEW


Last Modified 11/17/2014