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U.S. Coast Guard Oral History Program

Katrina Archival & Historical Record Team (KART)

Hurricane Katrina, 2005

Interviewees: 

CAPT Steve Taylor, USCG

Aviation & Force Manager, Atlantic Area

CDR Dave Morgan, USCG

AOFA Staff (Air Assets)

LCDR Ron Magoon, USCG (Ret.)

Aviation Staff (Program Management Analyst)

 

Monica McCormack

Interviewer: PACS Peter J. Capelotti, USCGR
Date of Interview:  27 September 2005
Place: Atlantic Area Command, Portsmouth, Virginia


USCG HH-65 conducting a rescue during KatrinaQ: Could you tell me your full name and spell your last name for me please?

Ms. McCormack: Monica McCormack; M-C-C-O-R-M-A-C-K.

Q: Thank you. Okay Captain Sir, if I could start with you, if you could give me your name.

CAPT Taylor: Sure, Captain Steve Taylor. I work in Atlantic Area. I was the Aviation Force Manager during the Katrina ops. During the operation I was Acting as the Atlantic Area Operational Forces manager, which encompasses the control of surface, air and cutter resources. 

Q: Okay, great. Commander Sir?

CDR Morgan: Yes, I’m Commander Dave Morgan and I work also on the Aofa staff here at LantArea and basically worked the air assets piece as far as the hurricane ops.

Q: Okay. If I could just ask you to . . . you’re going to need to give your command voices, especially with this fan sitting here . . . this thing will sound like a pile of mush by the end of it
Sir?

LCDR Magoon: Yes, Ron Magoon. I work on the Aviation Staff; Program Management Analyst.

Q: Great. And what I will do is if one of you’ll answers a question just say who you are beforehand so when the transcriber gets around to it he’ll know. We’ll start with the Captain and if one of you answers then identify yourself when you’re doing it so he knows that you’ve broken in.

CAPT Taylor: Well just to add to Ron comments. Ron’s a retired Lieutenant Commander and he’s been working in this capacity for six years and his depth of ability to move assets and where you can pick and pull from was invaluable during Katrina, so I’ll say that up front. His expertise was just absolutely invaluable.

Q: So you were in charge of Aviation Forces in LantArea during Katrina and were also in charge of all forces?

CAPT Taylor: That’s right, during Katrina.

Q: And is that your normal position? 

CAPT Taylor: No, but I worked for another Captain, so when Captain Jacobs was out . . . he was on leave for two weeks and I was lucky . . . .

Q: You got the lucky job I guess.

CAPT Taylor: Yes.

Q: So what was going on . . . well before I get to that could you just give me a brief synopsis of your career up to this point? How did you land in this seat on August 29th? Are you Academy?

CAPT Taylor: Well okay, no problem. OCS, and after OCS I went to Headquarters and then went to Flight School. I flew on the West Coast in the Falcon jet doing the Marine Response Mission with Aireye [phonetic] and then when they brought in the air intercept mission I was moved to Miami and did that for five years doing both Search and Rescue aspect as well as the drug interdiction. From there I went to Graduate School in Washington, DC and then was assigned to work for the Chief of Staff for three years under Admiral Allen in Resources. Then after that I went to Corpus Christi where I was Ops Officer and then XO and then requested this job in LantArea, and I’ve been here for three years. 

Q: Okay, thank you Sir. What else was going on in the background when this tropical storm spun up into a hurricane that you were dealing with in terms of moving resources around the Area?

CAPT Taylor: Well that relates to one of your questions actually. Which one was it? Okay, yes, Number 15: “What else is going on when Katrina came ashore?” Well you’re asking more before it came ashore?

Q: Right.

CAPT Taylor: We were heavily involved in standing up a future mission, which is the National Capital Region Rotary Wing Air Intercept. Currently that’s performed by Customs Border Patrol and the Secretary has indicated that we will be taking that over. So we were using our 60s heavily to train for that mission for a pretty short-fused start date.

Q: Who has operational control of that mission? Is that an Area mission?

CAPT Taylor: That will be an Area mission, yes.

Q: Okay, so that was run out of your shop?

CAPT Taylor: It will be run out of our shop. It’s not officially in place yet.

Q: Okay.

CAPT Taylor: We’re in the planning phase for it. So as far as our 60 assets we were heavily involved with that.  As far as the . . . we had the MSST deployments that we normally have anyway so you can talk to Keith Smith about that. 

We also had our normal cutter lay down in the Caribbean and that was shifted. Basically we moved all that. Additionally we had the OPBAT resources, which Ron is very familiar with. He can give you the details on that. We basically shut down OPBAT and then had gone over . . . .

Q: And what is that?

CAPT Taylor: It’s basically the Bahamian mission for counter drug support but they do a lot of AMIL as well. So we closed that pipeline as well as Katrina progressed and turned into a massive disaster. So we were trying to pull all of the assets we could as possible. 

Also involved in the mix, which Ron is our core expert at, we were still in the process of upgrading our 65 aircraft going from a Bravo to a Charlie Arriel engine and Ron was heavily involved in seeing what the impact was going to be on those by trying to get Charlies, which are much more capable, into that mix for Katrina and how it was or was not going to impact the pipeline.

Q: That pipeline is . . . so there are already some of those assets onboard?

LCDR Magoon: Yes.

Q: And was this kind of a test bed for them?

LCDR Magoon: No, they’re operational. We’ve got two units that are fully operational right now and we’ll start our third unit in mid-October.

Q: So you have two units. Were they both sent into this response?

LCDR Magoon: Yes.

Q: From where?

LCDR Magoon: Atlantic City and Savannah.

CAPT Taylor: There was also another Charlie at ATC Mobile that we used so we had that one in the mix too. Dave, did I leave anything out?

CDR Morgan: No Sir, not that I can think of right now. Only as far as the mission impact - and this is Commander Dave Morgan by the way – are all the mission support for the JIATF operations down south as far as relocating C-130s and so forth; supply aircraft, in support of the hurricane, and I think we were looking to pre-stage some of that early on as well. 

LCDR Magoon: And then of course planning goes without being said, but the training pipelines, both at ATC Mobile for the aviation side - the cutters I think cancelled one of the TAC missions; training missions - and just routine training at the Aviation units went into a standstill.

Q: Were there ongoing operations that were curtailed or redirected because of this response?

LCDR Magoon:
Yes, all of those things I mentioned were ongoing operations.

Q: Ongoing, yes.  At what point in this operation did you meet as a staff and say, “We’ve got something on our hands that’s a little more than normal and we need to start making plans for it”?

LCDR Magoon: I would have to look at the dates exactly but as the hurricane rolled over Florida and then once it basically made a beeline through the straits and didn’t really impact that much, I guess that’s when we really started. It was pre-Labor Day weekend and I think on that Tuesday we probably were discussing among ourselves, “Boy, this thing’s looking nasty”, and it was by Thursday we were getting everything in place. And the big fear that we had was this thing was planning on encroaching upon a holiday weekend, which is typically one of our busiest for Search and Research, so we were pre-negotiating with the Districts to see what they could actually pull and these guys were basically going directly to the units giving them heads up, particularly with the Aviation side. Now Keith Smith was working his side as well talking to his units to see what they could possibly provide and of course Eric Brown from the cutter side; we had him looking at his mix of cutters; what was going to have to get out of the way and what would come back in and what timeframe, and that was even before we realized the magnitude of the storm. So this is normal pre-planning that we would do with our forces. 

Q: This pre-planning that you’re speaking of . . . .

CAPT Taylor: It starts at our level . . . 

Q: Okay.

CAPT Taylor: . . . and then from there . . . I really don’t know when we had the first formal meetings or IMT. Was that on Thursday? Dave, you were one of the first ones in there but your memory is probably so fogged by this like everybody else’s, that you know, back to back major hurricanes really smacked us. Was it Thursday we stood up our IMT or was it Friday?

CDR Morgan: I’m not quite certain Captain, to be honest with you, when the exact date was when we stood it up. I know initially I was out of the picture because I was running the air side out from my office and then I got integrated into the IMT and did it there.

CAPT Taylor: Well I think the best person to answer that is probably Captain Neil Buschman. He would have the timeline, and Bob Teufel. Bob took control of the IMT completely I think it was the second day into the hurricane; second or third. We had some difficulties with the IMT at first and we had to restructure it. 

Q: But you say that it starts with you as far as finding out what resources are there. Who has the very first notion that we need to start getting people together? Like what office would call people together to say, “We need to find out what resources are out there and how are we going to move them if we need to?” 

CAPT Taylor: Well initially it would come at the lower level from our office and then AO would be the coordinating principal here in LantArea, so that’s Captain Neil Buschman.

Q: Okay.

CAPT Taylor: And he was the Principal Coordinator. He started calling the meetings. He and the Chief of Staff; Chris Colvin, determined when we stood up the IMT and how it would be mixed.

Q: Is this contingent on . . . as the situation develops you get a bad situation, you start to get into a situation where you need those resources, who then has the authority to put those resources into play or to call them out from their usual place? Now you’ve identified them. You’ve pre-planned. Who makes the next call?

CAPT Taylor: The ultimate authority rests with the Area Commander; Admiral Crea.

Q: Okay, so you bring a package of recommendations to her. 

CAPT Taylor: Exactly, we package it and push it up and our shop is the one that packages those resources. So we come up with the matrix of what we want to do. In Katrina we actually had three different layers that we applied. It was the first one. Then we saw it was really looking worse and then we peeled off the second one. That was on a Friday night. Friday night basically we peeled off the second layer and then as we realized this thing was a monster Admiral Crea directed that we do more. So basically that’s all she has to tell us and we come up our solutions. I think on the fourth layer we peeled off another four 60s and two C-130s and then got PAC engaged with two 60s and a C-130.

Q: Was there a point at which you were straining to find those resources? Say you get to this fourth level, I mean at what level do you start to say, “There’s not a whole lot left out there to put . . .”?

CAPT Taylor: That was the max. We really could . . . without shutting down units and completely breaking their SAR posture we were at our max limit, or without pulling more from Pacific Area. But quite frankly, logistically they were very, very slow in coming and that’s purely geographical as far as that goes. Go ahead Ron.

LCDR Magoon: At one point, I think at the max level the number I heard was that 38 percent of all Coast Guard Aviation resources were in the New Orleans AOR, which is over a third of all Aviation was down there. So within the LantArea side of it we had units that had one response resource at home unit for SAR. So we were pretty much stretched as thin as we were going to get, as the Captain said, without shutting down units.

CAPT Taylor: And again, keep in mind this in on Labor Day weekend and my concern and the principle negotiators that I worked with were the District Search and Rescue Managers, they were very concerned too. We were all concerned with what we were doing but you know most of us or all of us have been through these hurricanes before. We know the little ones from the big ones and all you had to do was take out the old images of Andrew and compare it to Katrina and you saw that this one was immensely larger.

Q: Can you speak to that for just a moment as this whole institutional memory that the Coast Guard has year after year after year of dealing with these things; spinning up in response to these, you know whether it’s a small one, big one, medium one, and more or less what you might have to throw at it, both that and how this was different from say earlier situations?

CAPT Taylor: I think given that the Coast Guard is coastal by in large that you’d be hard pressed to find someone with 20 years of Service, which all of the folks that I would be working with have - where I’m 20 or more years – you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that didn’t have a core competence in how to coordinate operational resources assuming they’ve been in the operational world. Now some folks have lived in different pockets in the Coast Guard like the Marine Safety community or Logistics or the “T” folks that do electronics. But still they come into play as well in these major responses and whether it’s disaster due to flooding, hurricanes or ship wreckage, all of the planning and the core competences to respond are skills that Coast Guard operations folks have at their fingertips. So in terms of hurricanes, again, most of us have been through those. Ron, hurricanes, how many?

LCDR Magoon: Ten/twelve, I don’t know. I think the one thing that was different was Katrina. It reminded me a little bit of Floyd when we went through that drill because when Floyd went through it was right after Dennis - and I can’t remember what the other hurricane was - but the ground was so wet that when Floyd came through with all the rain, all the rivers flooded out. You know the flooding was the thing that people hadn’t really expected with Katrina. You had the large winds, you know a major hurricane, and from what I understand from listening to some of the interviews on television and stuff, people that rode out Camille said, “Oh, this is just another Camille and I rode that out and there was no big deal.” But it wasn’t the hurricane itself that was the problem. It was the flooding afterwards that caused all the problems and putting all these people on rooftops. You know that was the same thing that we faced with Floyd. The first call we got that night, of course it’s at night, you know 400 people on rooftops that are all going to die if we don’t get helicopters down there. So we had a wave of 20 or 30 helicopters headed down to North Carolina to pull people off rooftops and that was just rural North Carolina. Now we’re talking about a large metropolitan city where everybody is on their rooftops or stuck in their attics. So I think that was the thing that nobody really anticipated was that huge flood that was going to come afterwards. 

CAPT Taylor: Right, I mean I think we’ve talked about it but didn’t realize the immense impact. That’s a really good point Ron. Personally I went through two hurricanes in Corpus Christi and the same thing occurred. It was Urban SAR and one of the two was very similar to Katrina. The environmental conditions were so unbearable during the day that people would hunker in their house and then they would climb out on the roofs at night. Now if they heard something they may try to come up but a helicopter doesn’t take long to scoot by when you’re searching for people on roofs. So one of the things that the Coast Guard brings to the table beyond the hoist capability that some National Guard have and some DoD has, but not all of them, it’s a core competence. All of our pilots that fly helicopters have that. But we also are all NVG capable at a very sophisticated level for the Coast Guard. So night hoists, we really made our money in Katrina with night hoists. 

Q: Do you say that that was a particular area where the Coast Guard had a competence that perhaps other Services didn’t?

CAPT Taylor: Absolutely, that’s why they were really demanding our services more than DoD because DoD was good at picking people up and taking them places, but doing the night hoist, that core capability only exists in pockets.

Q: In the Aviation community is there any such thing as Urban SAR training?

CAPT Taylor: Absolutely not, no. 

Q: So there’s no policy or procedures in place for what you guys did after Katrina when you’ve got a whole city flooded and you’ve got a bunch of people on the rooftops who are sort of . . . ?

CAPT Taylor: The policy and procedure is, “Watch out because you can get bit in a heartbeat”, and I think it was truly a miracle that no one did either lose their life or have serious injury. We only had one minor aircraft mishap and it was really a common occurrence in the day. 

Q: So if you don’t train for this particular strange situation then how were things worked out in terms of talking to other Services, clearing airspace; all of those? I mean who controlled the sky and all of those sorts of things?

CAPT Taylor: That’s a good question. First of all for the first two and half, three days it was not a problem, it was Coast Guard. And what we did was we had our C-130s serve as the Command and Control platform and we requested from the DoD, the Navy, that they eventually get E-2s in there, which they did prior to a Presidential Directive or anything like that. They just knew that we needed their help. And I think we also had the Customs Border Patrol working with their doned aircraft to provide aircraft separation as well.

Q: These would be C-130s from E-City that were . . . ?

CAPT Taylor: I can’t recall which ones we used. Do you remember?

CDR Morgan: Captain, the C-130 platform for the C-2 basically came out of Clearwater and they were scheduled on a time window slot basically between 2300 until 0600 every night.

Q: And this was airborne Command and Control?

CDR Morgan: This was airborne Command and Control, the direct assets. 

CAPT Taylor: And as soon as we could we tried to get one of our Coast Guard cutters up into the AOR to also serve as a Comms relay platform and I think that was done on Day Two we finally got it up there; Day One and a Half. 

Q: You say a Comms relay platform. Can they do . . . ?

CAPT Taylor: Air separation; not effectively in a large distance like we were dealing with. 

Q: Did they do any in this situation or was that all eventually handled by air traffic controllers flying from aircraft?

LCDR Magoon: Well my understanding of what the C-130s were doing is probably, you know the Navigator has his chart out and helicopter “X” checks in so he puts a little mark over on this spot and basically he figures out where everybody’s working and as people are checking in he’s just letting them know who else is in that area working with them. So it’s pretty much, “See and avoid during the daytime.”

CAPT Taylor: Exactly, and at night under Night Vision Goggles it’s pretty . . . because you had no lights to deal with. If you see a light it’s probably something flying. 
The folks down in New Orleans are going to be able to tell you - am I that dynamic [chuckle]? The folks in New Orleans are going to be able to tell you better how they sectioned and partialed that off. What they did is they divided the whole Area up into grids and they would assign people a certain grid to fly in and no one else would be, you know if they had two aircraft they knew that that was only two aircraft.

Q: You say they divided it up. Who would they be?

CAPT Taylor: That would probably have been New Orleans who would have been the primary folks. They were the first . . .

Q: You mean Air Station New Orleans?

CDR Morgan: Yes, first, and then the IMT . . . .

CAPT Taylor: Took over but it took them a little while to get up and running. The first reconstituted Forward Operating Base in theater was Air Station New Orleans. They basically got the fuel. We brought in fuel bladders and other things to make sure that they had enough fuel to support the aircraft that were already down there and we were sending down there, and that was the hub at first and then it migrated to the Sector IMTs and then eventually St. Louis was the overall coordinator and became our contact point. But that probably started to gel about Day Two.

Q: Have you seen operational tempo like this before for other helicopter platforms?

CAPT Taylor: Not to this level. I think this is unprecedented. I was in Andrew and I guess going back to the core competence question, in my back pocket I knew good and well that the Federal agencies were going to be slow to respond to a mass disaster like this. We’ve seen it over and over and over. 

Q: That’s another core competence of the Coast Guard is . . .

CAPT Taylor: Knowing this is going to happen [chuckle]. So I mean during Andrew I watched resources literally fly in and almost block our ability to take off and land by putting all kinds of heavy fixed wing aircraft with supplies, and the supplies sat in there for three days. You know the Coast Guard eventually started taking their supplies and flying them in in a Cossa and in helicopters, so we had a pretty extensive air picture going on for that. But I think, unless you guys can think of anything different, this was kind of unprecedented in air resource. 

LCDR Magoon: I’ve never heard of any large scale air operations to this degree. Normally I think I’ve seen it before where you may have two Districts work one event but this one basically covered every District on the map.

Q: So to go back to where we started, percentage wise, as you say, 38 percent of all of the Coast Guard’s aviation assets were in one theater. 

CAPT Taylor: That’s right.

Q: If the Coast Guard had to respond to some major terrorist attack or something else in the country what was your estimation of our capability to do that?

CDR Morgan: At the height of the Katrina ops we’d be very limited as far as what resources we could provide. Just like the Captain already alluded too, we were at our breaking point per say as to providing the limited capability back at each home air station; just maintaining the bare minimums for SAR posture. So if another major event was to occur somewhere else it would have some severe impact as far as what we would be able to provide at that point. I couldn’t give you a figure as far as resources remaining.

Q: Sure.

CAPT Taylor: Let me just add for your edification, since we’re the first interviewers, in terms of how the forces are managed and structured. The Aviation model is different from the cutter world. The cutter world is all ran out of LantArea as Ron well knows. However the . . . and the force protection element; port security, MSSTs, PSUs are also LantArea resources and they are portioned out to the Districts or to JIATF depending on who’s using them. But the AOF shop maintains control over those. Our shop basically, we negotiate, we move resources among Districts and we control the C-130s and we control aviation use of force but beyond that we basically would go to the District Commanders or the representative and negotiate what level of risk they’re willing to support Katrina. And I’ve got to tell you I’ve never seen such selfless attempts to try to help us. I mean these guys were not pushing back, especially on a Labor Day weekend. They were going, “Let’s do everything we can”, in both the people, the communications, etc., etc., etc. 

Q: And that would be a decision that each District Commander would have to make, that “This is what I have to give you. This is . . . .”.

CAPT Taylor: We ultimately have the ability just to pull them from them but we negotiated. 

Q: Sure.

CAPT Taylor: We didn’t take the approach that we know best. We would go to them and say, “What can you do?” Some great efforts . . . 

Q: Now with that approach; negotiate as opposed too . . .

CAPT Taylor: Dictate.

Q: Is that approach based on you folks? Is it based on the personality of the Area Commander? I mean who decides, say in a crisis, “I’m going to negotiate versus I’m going to tell you what I need and take them”?

CAPT Taylor: Well I think that’s really . . . that’s the way we do business in Aviation because we’re dealing with some very smart people. We have a very limited staff and I have already eluded too, very small brains, so we’re Aviators [chuckle]. So we rely on the expertise out there. I mean when we went to the second and third layer I basically had conference calls with all the District OSRs and we discussed what they could do. Some great ideas popped out of there that we had never thought about. For example D-1 said, “You know I can get the Canadians to come in and stand our ready over the weekend.” It worked out great. So there were some really good ideas that came through negotiation whereas I think, especially in the heat of the battle, it can get very myopic in making decisions. Here in LantArea where you’re sipping your cup of coffee and . . . 

Q: Well I’m thinking in this situation, especially as the situation started to deteriorate, you started to have these other pressures both from the public and maybe from the political leaders also, to do, do, do, something, something, something. But at no point in this process did it get to the point where you were just pulling stuff. You were still in this negotiation like, “What can you give me and when can it get there” mode.

CAPT Taylor: I think toward the third phase it was Admiral Crea saying, “Okay”, because the Seventh District for example did not want to release their OPBAT resources because of the high really increasing migratory flows this year and they felt very vulnerable, and Admiral Crea did make that decision.

Q: To take those resources.

CAPT Taylor: Yes, but she still called the Seventh District Commander and said, “I’m going to do this” and he said, “Okay”. 

LCDR Magoon:
We have to rely on the Districts to tell us the impacts and that’s where the negotiation part comes in. And as you just pointed out, the perfect example of that is that Seventh District said, “If I give up these OPBAT resources this will be the impact with all these migrants”, and Admiral Crea at that point goes, “Okay, I’m willing to live with that because there are people in New Orleans that need to get off of their houses.” So that’s why the negotiation works because at some point if Admiral Crea directs that District One give up all of their helicopters for this, the impact of that is that there’s no SAR response in District One, so she has to know that. 

CAPT Taylor: And I think the Aviation issues - and I’m saying this as AOF - they’re more sensitive because they are your first responders within your District to anything that occurs. You know you take a cutter; it’s going to take a few days to get it anywhere. You take the MSST, LEDET, PSUs, you’re going to perhaps reduce some level of port security or force security somewhere but the impact most likely is not loss of life. Whereas you start taking your immediate response lift capability away from your Districts and the District Commander starts thinking, “What if something happens in my District. What am I going to respond with?” And nothing’s quicker, faster or more effective than a helicopter. 

Q: Did we have enough to respond with in New Orleans?

CAPT Taylor: We responded with everything that we could. That’s about all we can say on that. We didn’t have anything else to respond with without shutting down units.

Q: But in terms of need on the ground and people sitting on roofs, I mean if we had twice as many helicopters would we have thrown them at that situation if they were available?

CAPT Taylor: If we’d have had heavy lift capability, particularly with the 60 airframe, which we have very few - we’re very nimble with 60s - we would most definitely have preferred to have either that or the HH-65 re-engined Charlie model because they’re the ones that could load 10, 12 people in the back of their helicopters at one time, and I’m sure in the heat of the battle they were probably putting 20 something people in the 60s. And we have a couple of great cases with the newly re-engined H-65 where they put eight people with a full load of gas, got them in there, got them out, and then the second time they went in, still heavy load with gas, got ten people in the back of the 65. I would challenge anyone just to get that many people in the back of a 65. Normally you may have two people or three at the most and that’s about all the Bravo can carry. So to answer your question, absolutely. If we had the right resource and more of it we would have applied it to there.

Now the question you all have to ask D-8 for real accuracy; the operators, is whether or not in fact lives were not saved as a result, that’s the real question. And if I was on the White Panel reviewing this and I was in Congress I would most definitely ask these questions. So we’ll see if they get asked. That would be interesting.

Q: I can ask it right now Sir [chuckle].

CAPT Taylor: I’m just a lowly staff worker so I only have opinions.

Q: I’m 28 steps below your Sir, so . . . . 

CDR Morgan: I mean we have not heard with the media coverage that we’ve had that that would have been one of the first things that would have been on CNN was, “People in this house died because no one came to get them”, and we’re not hearing that. I think that – and this is just me speculating on what I’m seeing but - that the lives that were lost were not lost because helicopters weren’t overhead. You know they were lost because they went into an attic without an escape route and the water went higher than they expected. 

CAPT Taylor: And I think that’s probably the truth. So did we have enough resources to affect all the rescues that we could? I think the answer maybe yes, but again we don’t know. 

CDR Morgan: Right, we don’t.

CAPT Taylor: Connectivity during this whole process was absolutely . . . well it wasn’t comical. It was interesting to watch it unfold and watch pockets break apart because it had no information. I guess for three days we would try to filter out what the District needed and that became really our biggest equation to solve because their requests were convoluted between three different locations. And it wasn’t their fault, let’s face it. They’re operating with one cell phone or a SAT phone or one open line if that. So it was . . . and we eventually - and you’ll talk to the “T” guys about this - eventually got the mobile communications in there but that was a couple of days later and got all of those things established but it took a while.

Q: In this situation when the communications are all waxed and nobody’s talking with anybody else, how much did the air crews act as kind of forward intelligence as well as doing this Urban Search and Rescue? 

CAPT Taylor: You all can probably speak to this more articulately. But basically in the Coast Guard Aviation community once you get airborne you’re on the radio and you’re talking to anybody that’s out there, whether you’re flying your fixed wing or rotor wing. When you’re going out to a mission you’re trying to talk to whoever’s out there to see what’s going on, where the hot spots are, and when you’re coming back in to refuel you’re passing that information along as well. When you get into the Ops Center you’ll debrief. I’m sure they had people there to collect information and look at the mark on the sectors and it would be interesting for you to carve into that to see how they did it. 

Q: And would this information come up to you folks?

CAPT Taylor: Not really and it shouldn’t because, lets face it, they had their hands full and we tried a macro, not micro. If we’d have tried to micromanage this thing it would have been a complete disaster and I think the entire Atlantic Area staff did a really good job in staying in their lane and making sure that we helped and didn’t become a hindrance.

Q: What kind of strain did this put on the maintenance of these airframes?

CAPT Taylor: Yet to be determined. These guys were carving into that during the whole time and we were saying, you know “What’s the breakage rate?” And to jump back to a thing that Ron mentioned; 38 percent of Coast Guard Aviation, you’ve got to realize that at any given time of that 38 percent, “X” percent; probably 20 or more, are going to be down for maintenance. That’s just the nature of the beast. So I would say that Coast Guard maintenance is pretty well tuned and based on the number of flight hours you’re going to have “X” number of deferred maintenance. What they tried to do when they knew they were pushing aircraft into the AOR for Katrina they would try to get ahead of the maintenance as much as possible. That way they didn’t have to do so much when they were in theater and then try to get that bird out before it went into heavy maintenance. Now a couple of them went hard down on us and they just sat on the ramp. They looked pretty, take a picture, but they didn’t fly, and that’s just the nature of the beast. 

CDR Morgan: And also Captain, to address as far as maintenance support and so forth, there were some HSKs moved into theater from Air Station Clearwater and they’re basically just a support trailer that has . . .

LCDR Magoon: Helicopter support.

Q: Okay.

CDR Morgan: Right, helicopter support kits that will kind of reduce some of the downtimes in theater as well instead of having to have the aircraft ferry all the way back to its home station.

Q: Before I get to the training question, did Force Protection for these assets become an issue and what policy, is there any policy to address Force Protection in an urban environment?

CAPT Taylor: There are a couple of ways to address that question. First of all Keith Smith will be very good at articulating what he did with his assets because that’s why we pushed them in from the beginning. We knew that there was going to be . . . with complete disintegration of the fabric of the society of itself you’re going to have urban problems. I mean that’s a given. 

Q: I mean specifically here where people are taking potshots at airframes as there were some reports.

CAPT Taylor: Well to our knowledge no Coast Guard aircraft were fired upon. We heard some rumors that some aircraft may have been when we went close to the Super Dome but we didn’t have anybody to support that. But the Force Protection for the units themselves, they would have naturally taken what they had from within their Sector and I’m sure when you talk to them you will find that they had sentries 24-hours. That’s standard. Anytime you have a disaster, particularly within your own community, you’re going to set that up. It’s just one thing. Now are we apportioned to do that in the Coast Guard? Are we funded to do that? Absolutely not, but we did the best that . . . we moved all that we could.

Q: In the aftermath of this you’re going to be, I’m sure, going to lessons learned and all of that. Do you see the Coast Guard promulgating policy on Urban Search and Rescue now that you’ve got this big database of experience in it, in response to say a future catastrophe with all of these layers, whether it’s Force Protection or hours or resources needed and so forth?

CAPT Taylor:
It will be an interesting discussion I think. Talk about Inland SAR Ron. Whose responsibility is it?

LCDR Magoon: It’s supposed to be the Air Force.

CAPT Taylor: The Air Force has the responsibility for Inland SAR. Now you can make the argument with a hurricane that the Coast Guard is the first responder to disasters, true, and because there was water everywhere we considered that our mission. But then again, no one else was responding. The Inland SAR piece did not kick into gear. 

Q: Well do you know why that didn’t happen?

LCDR Magoon: Well the other side of this too, and we went through this with Floyd as well, is when the President declares it’s an emergency, you know whatever that Presidential edict is that he comes out with, once he does that then that kicks FEMA in and FEMA can request resources from any of the agencies. 

Q: Including DoD?

LCDR Magoon: Yes, DoD, DOT, DHS, wherever they want, wherever they feel they need resources. So that’s one of the reason we were able to get into this as easily as we did besides the fact that we were already there because of all the Air Stations in the area.

CAPT Taylor: True.

LCDR Magoon: But if he had not made that declaration ahead of time it would have been a little more problematic for the Coast Guard. Not that we wouldn’t have done the same thing but it wouldn’t have been as easy for us.

Q: Is there a POC between the Coast Guard SAR and the Air Force SAR?

CAPT Taylor: There sure used to be. I’m not sure. We’d have to talk to the people in the Command Center to find out.

Q: So it wasn’t a situation where the Coast Guard was asked to come in and you guys - obviously you were there a couple of hours later - you didn’t say, “Well that’s Air Force work. Call the Air Force”? 

CAPT Taylor: Well I don’t think we would ever do that. 

LCDR Magoon: No.

CAPT Taylor: I think really the Air Force to Inland SAR has responded in the past with their airplane crashes and some of those other things but quite frankly I don’t know how they’re staffed these days. I really couldn’t tell you. We don’t have a . . . we in the Aviation world don’t have a symbiotic link with them. 

Q: Okay.

CAPT Taylor: So I guess that’s the best way to put it. And I’m not trying to say that they didn’t do their job. I don’t know that they were ever given the directive until like Day Three or Four when the event was deemed an Incident of National Security Defense I believe is what they call it.

Q: But just in terms of you’re saying, “We’re flowing all these resources. We’ve had this big percentage of our stuff”, I guess there’s not a hot phone to the Secretary of the Air Force saying, “We could sure use some help”, or something like that.

CAPT Taylor: I think we’re getting closer to that point with the negotiations with NORTHCOM in particular and we’ve had a number of exercises since 9/11 trying to get to that point because you know you’re dealing with a lot of government bureaucracies and they all don’t see the world through the same eyes. And we’ve made great strides in trying to blend National Security and National Defense Ops and when one can help the other and under what laws. So it will be interesting to watch it play out and see where this ends up going.

Q: And finally I just wanted to see from your personal experience, your career experience, how you evaluated this mission, what suggestions you’d have for the future if not these that we’ve been talking about?

CAPT Taylor: Ron, you start with that one.

LCDR Magoon: Again, based on what I’ve seen over the six and half years of being here, this was by far the largest response effort LantArea has ever been involved in. We took units down to levels that were unprecedented, you know leaving one helicopter behind, flowing in backfilled birds with 65s to come in, stand the SAR while the 60s were down doing Katrina ops. So in that respect we’ve never done anything like this before and I think the numbers speak for themselves.

CAPT Taylor: Dave?

CDR Morgan: I have to second that. As far as the LantArea staff I agree with what the Captain said as well earlier, that they did a tremendous job flowing resources in. My point of this is that I’ve only been on the staff here about 60 days. To see the amount of work and resources transitioned into theater, you know this is something unprecedented like we’ve already talked about. 

I think as far as the aircraft resources and the Coast Guard’s job in this, I think history’s already shown that now, just by the past couple of weeks, of what our capabilities are. I guess the real question is going to be, is now where I think the President has quoted the question as far as, “Now is DoD going to take the lead”, and then what aspect of that are we going to attach possibility to that prior to or after DoD disengaged, or is it at the same level. But I’m just hopeful that we don’t have to go through another event like this anytime soon obviously or ever again if we could certainly avoid that situation, but as far as the resources and so forth everybody can always use more. There’s no doubt about that. But I think we utilized what we had to the best capability that we had at the time.

Q: If there’s a situation where you’ve got the necessity for a mass urban evacuation like you did here in an unusual situation where half the city’s underwater, do you see us training up to deal with that in staffing and resourcing service to be able to deal with a contingency like that? Do you see that as part of the operational plan at some point?

CAPT Taylor: In short term, no. I mean DoD has heavy lift assets and if we had the appropriate links to call upon them through one central agency or one central coordinator clearing house, then yes, we should be able to rely on them. The problem and the difference is that the Coast Guard is one of the few branches of the Government that stands a 24 by 7 outside of your local and staff police departments, fire departments and stuff like that. DoD has some critical national security assets that do this but they don’t have a cadre of folks that do it and they’re geared on at least a two to three day to initial movement model, and so it does take them some time to gear up to move assets. They’re not nimble and also their layers of structure to get things going bureaucratically is not near as thin. I mean if you look at us, basically I was going three layers above . . . we were going through two Captains to the Admiral and saying, “Here are our recommendations for force lay down”, and from there we made it happen. So to the Coast Guard’s credit they have delegated down that operational authority to the pockets that can deal with it the quickest and then from Area we delegate down to the District. We provide the resources, make recommendations perhaps on where they should go, or in the state of confusion like Katrina tell them where we’re putting them in some cases and then let them do the great things they do. To answer your question I think this was a tremendous success for a lot of brave men and women that wear blue and I’m proud of every one of them and the staff. I can tell you that short of a couple of snide remarks and sarcastic comments that I received from people, no one pushed back and no one complained. They said, “How can we help”, you know, “What do you need?” I had people calling all hours of the day and night wanting to help. So it was just a tremendous effort and quite frankly that’s what we do. We do it on a daily basis, just not on this scale. And I think all those folks, they don’t ask for one ounce of appreciation. They were just happy that they were there to help out.

Q: Well they might get an ounce or two this time Sir. 

CAPT Taylor: They deserve that.

Q: Captain Sir, Commander, Commander, thank you so much.

CAPT Taylor: Hey, my pleasure.

Q: I appreciate it very much. Thank you Commander Sir. 

END OF INTERVIEW


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