U.S. Coast Guard Oral History Program

Katrina Archival & Historical Record Team (KART)

Hurricane Katrina, 2005

Interviewee: LTJG Loraleigh Whiteside , USCG

Planning Officer, Administrative Officer & Assistant Ops Officer
MSST 31104, Galveston


Interviewer: Not mentioned
Date of Interview:  8 November 2005
Place: MSST Galveston 


Abstract:

USCG helicopters hoisting Hurricane Katrina survivorsLTJG Loraleigh Whiteside was the Planning, Admin, & Acting Ops Officer for MSST 31104. In advance of Katrina making landfall, the team assessed its capabilities in the event they were called to assist in the NOLA area. She coordinated movement to NOLA and maintained contact with her primary POC, BMC Farrell via cell phone, though it was difficult. She also kept contact with D-8 Ops Center in Alexandria. She developed an ad hoc logistical system to enable the team to receive additional equipment; the "stay behinds" in Baton Rouge became a forward supply element. They had funds to purchase equipment and rent cars. Even when she left the station, she remained on call. The only other agency with whom she coordinated was the Baton Rouge FD. The rear element in Galveston relocated to the Reliant Center during Rita. After Rita, elements were deployed to Lake Charles for 7-10 days. She had no direct involvement with the evacuee re-location to the Houston area after Katrina.

Quote:

"The team did an absolutely outstanding job and the level of professionalism that they had was beyond what I could have imagined they were capable of"


Q: Can you state your first name, your last name, and spell your last name?

LTJG Whiteside: Loraleigh Whiteside. It’s W-H-I-T-E-S-I-D-E.

Q: And your rank in the Coast Guard?

LTJG Whiteside: Lieutenant (Junior Grade).

Q: How long have you been in the Coast Guard?

LTJG Whiteside: I graduated the Academy in 2003 so I’ve been active for two and a half years.

Q: Okay.  Is MSST Galveston your first assignment?

LTJG Whiteside: It is my second assignment. I was on the Coast Guard cutter Tahoma; a 270, out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire prior to this.

Q: Okay. Now what are your duties here at MSST Galveston?

LTJG Whiteside: I’m the Planning Officer, the Admin Officer and Assistant Ops Officer, so if the unit goes on a deployment I help plan it and do the logistics for it. As the Assistant Ops Officer; just making sure that everybody is ready and that I know the status of all our equipment and personnel, so that I know as the Planning Officer what we can and cannot provide. And then as the Admin Officer I work with the admin department to make sure all the paperwork gets done correctly and on time.

Q: Okay. And then prior to MSST Galveston going to the operational area in New Orleans, what kind of preparations were going on here?

LTJG Whiteside: Well, we all saw the hurricane coming and we didn’t know that it was going to be that bad and we didn’t know if we were going to be responding to it, so we were just watching. Prior to the hurricane actually getting here we took a look at what we could offer in case we needed to help. And so we were prepared in that sense in that we knew what we were capable of giving, but in terms of getting tasking to go or getting a heads up, that came at the last minute. As soon as it hit they noticed the devastation and they told us to go down there, and since we knew what we could offer we were pretty much ready to go.

Q: Okay. And so you sent crews down there - Chief Farrell went down - and you were here coordinating with him?

LTJG Whiteside: Yes.

Q: And can you tell us about what transpired between you and the unit down there?

LTJG Whiteside: We didn’t have an ops officer at the time so I was both the operations officer and the planning officer at that point. As both of those I worked with Chief Farrell and the command to coordinate how we would get everything down there. And then once he was down there I got twice daily phone calls, at least, with their status and what they needed because we did supply runs almost every other day to help support them so that we were self-sufficient. We ended up finding a place for them to stay at the Baton Rouge Fire Department. That’s where they stayed the first night and the next day they drove down to New Orleans and he would call me if he needed anything. If I had an update for him I’d keep him in the loop of what I was hearing.

Q: You were able to talk with him through cell phones?

LTJG Whiteside: Yes.

Q: You didn’t have any problem with that?

LTJG Whiteside: Well, it was tedious trying to get a hold of him but if you just kept trying it worked; for the first week or so it took about 15 tries to get through to him, but it worked.

Q: Yes. And what kind of logistical support were you offering? What did you hear back from them when they got down there?

LTJG Whiteside: When they got down there we were doing everything from base security to helping clean up the base. We were going out with the DART teams. We did security for convoys. We did security for people being evacuated from New Orleans. We went through the 9th Ward and through other parts of New Orleans walking through doing security. I know some of our people helped clear out a hotel where there were some hostile people in there who were frustrated with the situation. We went along with urban search and rescue teams, FEMA and with the fire departments. We did everything. We went out in flood punts and helped out. It was just a whole array of things.

Q: And your primary contact was with the Chief?

LTJG Whiteside: Mine was, yes.

Q: Okay.  Were you getting any tasking, any information from say Alexandria or District 8 Operations?

LTJG Whiteside: Oh absolutely, I was on the phone with Alexandria and District 8 several times a day just letting them know what was going on down there because they didn’t have good comms with the people down there. So we were feeding them information. At the same time they were asking us if we could do certain missions or find somebody or do things like that, and so it was pretty much I’d talk to D-8 in Alexandria and then as soon as I could, make a phone call down to Chief Farrell.

Q: Who were you talking to at the ops center?

LTJG Whiteside: Everybody; I was talking to everybody. I don’t remember the specific names but there were a lot of different desks I was talking to.

Q: And what were they telling you, like, “We’re sending supplies and . . .”?

LTJG Whiteside: I would call up there with things that the unit couldn’t purchase, for instance we just didn’t know if we could get the hip waders and stuff faster than they could up there, so I’d call up there and say, “Can you all get us hip waders for doing these missions”, and they’d coordinate that. They would ask us information about what was going on down there; what our tasking was, what had we been doing. We’d go up there and ask them, “What do you want us to do”, and, “Do you need us to pass anything”, and stuff like that.

Q: Yes. And what would you say were the biggest challenges of working here and having a unit there; was it trying to get them things?

LTJG Whiteside: Getting them things was fairly easy. We staged a team up in Baton Rouge that had some monetary funds that they could go out and buy supplies and we ended up renting two more vehicles and we bought supplies here, and we did convoys and delivered them supplies. So that wasn’t the biggest issue. I think the biggest issue was communication. Along with the cell phones it was difficult to get through on a timely basis but also down there they would have several people telling them to do several different things. They wouldn’t know the capabilities that we offered as an MSST. They didn’t know what we could do. So I think that that was difficult.

Q: You mean the sector commander didn’t know what the MSST could do?

LTJG Whiteside: I don’t know who; there were several people we were getting direction from down there; that Chief Farrell was getting direction from, and he would get mixed messages or he told me several different things and there were some things that we could do that they said we couldn’t, like going in to clear houses with the 82nd. We had done that the day before and then all of a sudden the 82nd is saying that we can’t do it, we don’t know how, whereas we do know how to do it. And it’s just mixed communications. They were not sure of us and what we could offer as an MSST.

Q: Well how did that come down from the 82nd to the Coast Guard; did it come through you?

LTJG Whiteside: I think it went through Chief Farrell. There were always meetings going on with representatives from each unit.

Q: So there was a disconnect between the 82nd and the Coast Guard units down there as far as doing the evacuations.

LTJG Whiteside: I think there was a disconnect between everybody down there. I mean everybody was so focused on the one thing that they were concerned about that the bigger picture kind of eluded everybody down there, because it was just so hectic and so different from anything anybody had ever experienced. I think they ought to focus on little pieces of the picture instead of looking at the big one.

Q: And maybe there was a little bit of, “I’m in charge now”, “We’re in charge”.

LTJG Whiteside: Oh, I’m sure there was part of that but I don’t know.

Q: Now you were involved in operations too?

LTJG Whiteside: Yes, I was acting Ops as well.

Q: Yes, and what was going on with that?

LTJG Whiteside: I kind of combined planning and ops into one in that I knew what our capabilities were and I knew what our limitations were for the operations side and I was rodgering up saying, “Yes, we can do this. No, we can’t do this. This is why.” But at the same time, on the planning side, I was doing the logistics and planning logistics runs and working with people here to plan those, and then on the administrative side making sure their travel plans were getting done and getting the funding for everything. So I had a bunch of balls to juggle on this one.

Q: And how many people were helping you; you were on your own?

LTJG Whiteside: No, we had about, I’d say about 15 people here that once I knew what we needed I could task things out to and let them know what was going on. I’d brief everybody once or twice a day but I would have the big picture and then deal out the details to everybody else.

Q: Yes. And what was your work schedule like; were you doing like 16-hour days?

LTJG Whiteside: Well I was here for about ten hours a day but then at home I would get phone calls on my way home. I’d get phone calls up to 11 o’clock at night, sometimes in the middle of the night. So even when I was at home I had to carry around a pad and paper with all my notes on it and my phone list and everything because I don’t think I had half an hour during those couple weeks that I could actually sit down and do anything.

Q: So you were pretty much on call the whole time.

LTJG Whiteside: Yes, I was.

Q: How many were in this office doing support?

LTJG Whiteside: There were about 15 people that were supporting the operation down there but I was probably fielding the most phone calls. The CO ended up going up to Alexandria for a while so he was pretty heavily involved in putting in a lot of hours and then the XO would always get phone calls from me. I’d be briefing him up.

Q: And were you personally coordinating with any agencies at all or just through the . . . ?

LTJG Whiteside: The only agency I was coordinating with was the Baton Rouge Fire Department and that was to get supply runs down there. We had people stay there. And then once our team was stationed there, then I had a point of contact there that I could call and then they could do the coordination. But other than that I was just talking to D-8 in Alexandria.

Q: Now how did you come up with this Baton Rouge Fire Department; how did they fall into the picture?

LTJG Whiteside: I don’t really remember specifically but I think either D-8 or Alexandria mentioned it initially. . . we were headed down to New Orleans after the hurricane hit and it was when all the violent looting was going on and the rioting, and they didn’t want us going in there in the dark. And I think it was Alexandria, although I’m not sure, found us the fire department to stay at, and then from there instead of just staying one night we actually staged a team out of there. We kept our boats up there because we didn’t need our boats right away down in New Orleans and we kept a team of security up there and that was our forward supply and logistics team that we used.

Q: And how did the chain work; were you getting tasking from D-8 in Alexandria and then you would just tell the Chief?

LTJG Whiteside: I would be getting tasking from them and then pass it down to the Chief, but sometimes the Chief would get tasking from people there and tell me and then I’d call up the D-8 in Alexandria. It was very fluid. There were about three sets of chains of commands. There was the one here between CO, XO and down to the chiefs and the forward team in Baton Rouge. There was D-8 in Alexandria down and then there was New Orleans up.

Q: Now were people here eager to go into that operational theatre?

LTJG Whiteside: Absolutely, everybody here wanted to help. I don’t think there were any reservations at all.

Q: Yes. Did you have an opportunity to go down there?

LTJG Whiteside: I didn’t go down there. I was really swamped here.

Q: Yes. And then Rita came along. What was going on with Rita?

LTJG Whiteside: Well when Rita came along I was actually acting Ops again when that one happened. We all evacuated to the Reliant Center in Houston and as a group we had enough for one boat detachment to man the boats and support so in case we were needed immediately after the storm we were ready to send people out. And then the other half of our unit went and took care of their families and evacuated with them. The people that went to Reliant Center took care of their families and then came to the center. Then we rode the storm out there and afterwards we ended up coming back here (to Galveston), we were going to do work up in Houston and do security along the Houston waterways so we had a couple assets up at the MSO in Houston. We had a couple boats down here and we had one boat still at the Reliant Center. And as soon as everybody kind of split and went their own way we got tasking to go to Lake Charles. So after we had decided to disband and go back and have everybody take care of their personal stuff the phone calls started again and all the coordination, and we had to get people the next morning up to Lake Charles. So it was pretty hectic.

Q: Yes, and did you go to Lake Charles too?

LTJG Whiteside: No.

Q: You stayed here and coordinated.

LTJG Whiteside: I was here doing the planning and ops thing again.

Q: Yes, and how long did that last?

LTJG Whiteside: That only lasted a week to ten days.

Q: Yes.

LTJG Whiteside: If that. I don’t even know if it was that long. I think maybe a week.

Q: Did you have any damage to your home or anything?

LTJG Whiteside: No, I was fortunate. We just had a couple of branches down and that was it.

Q: Yes, wind damage a little bit.

LTJG Whiteside: Yes, just a little bit. And we were real fortunate because I’m only a half mile from the bay so it had surged. So we were real worried about that but it was fortunate that I didn’t have to concentrate on my personal stuff and my pets were with a friend west of Houston, so it wasn’t a problem.

Q: Now just to go back real quickly to Katrina; did you have any contact - or not contact - but do you know the fate or what was going on with evacuees that were coming from Louisiana over to Texas and to Houston? Did you have any idea or contact with anybody involved with that?

LTJG Whiteside: All I knew was what we were hearing on the news and kind of what was being said a little bit around here because some people knew people that were working with the Coast Guard helping with coordinating some of the evacuations out of here and so we would kind of get a little bit of insider information, if that’s what you want to call it. But really the news was our biggest source of info for that. We were really concentrating on our job down there.

Q: Yes.  So also the public around here; were you getting calls from them?

LTJG Whiteside: Yes.

Q: Okay.

LTJG Whiteside: We were getting a lot of calls from the public asking where they could donate things or what they could do to help.

Q: And what were you telling them?

LTJG Whiteside: The Houston area Coast Guard actually came out with donation sites and made it public knowledge that you could drop specific items at Ellington Field, and then here, our ombudsman did a coordination with a family for not only donations for the people that needed help in New Orleans but they also did care packages for our crews that were out there because we were working real hard out there. So the wives were great and gave them fresh clothes and some food other than MREs and stuff like that. So the ombudsman was a great help with that.

Q: Yes. Now can you share any memorable story that happened during this time that stands out in your mind?

LTJG Whiteside: Probably two of them. One of our first class boatswain mates was in an area that had a fire team that was not local to the area. There was a dog out there that obviously was abandoned by its owner; The loose dogs had been under a huge amount of stress and they were all hungry and anyone knows that when dogs get hungry and scared they’re going to be hostile. So the dog was bothering the fire department and he had to pepper spray it in order to subdue it and he possibly saved them from getting bitten by the dog and needing to get medically evaced.
And then there was another one where there was a hotel with some hostile individuals that were said to be armed and two of our first class boatswain mates successfully disarmed them all by using strong officer presence and verbal commands and got them all to come out of the, no harm done to anyone, and successfully evacuated them.

Q: All right. Now is there anything we haven’t covered you’d like to share with us?

LTJG Whiteside: I just think the team, they did an absolutely outstanding job and the level of professionalism that they had was beyond what I could have imagined that they were capable of. I think they did an absolutely wonderful job out there and that’s it.

Q: Alright, very good. Thank you.

LTJG Whiteside: Sure.  I hope that answered all of your questions.

Q: Yes.

END OF INTERVIEW


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