Sgt. Matt Meadows
4th Brigade Combat Team Journalist
DeRIDDER, La. – Hurricane Rita roared through DeRidder, La., Sept. 24, leaving many of its citizens without food, water, shelter and electricity. One thing Rita's wrath couldn't rip from the people of DeRidder is the relationship with Soldiers of 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI).
DeRidder is the community sponsor for 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, and Soldiers provide military support for events in the city when they can. This time, that support meant helping to clean up West Park and hurricane shelters at DeRidder schools in the aftermath of the hurricane.
After Hurricane Rita, 2-30 Infantry was tasked to help clean up Fort Polk and check on its residents, making sure they had food, water and medical supplies. When the call came to help DeRidder, 2-30 Infantry Soldiers were ready.
"You wake them up at six o'clock in the morning and tell them they're going to go cut wood until four o'clock in the afternoon, they are all about it. They are all about helping people out around here," said Sgt. John Welch, weapons squad leader, 2nd Platoon, B Company, 2-30 Infantry. "On post, we are there to help our own, but we know how much DeRidder and the surrounding areas support us, so the least we can do is come out and support those guys."
The 2-30 Infantry Soldiers were working in coordination with the 186th Engineers, a National Guard unit from Dothan, Ala., that had heavy equipment and chainsaws to handle and cut most of the trees.
Armed mostly with rakes, brooms, axes and manpower, the infantrymen cleared and moved debris and fallen tree sections and limbs.
Pfc. Van Childs, B Company, said he is happy to help DeRidder, and he knows the tie between the city and the unit is important. The infantrymen are the right people for the job, he said.
"In an instance like this, where it just takes a little sweat and hard work, you couldn't ask for better people to come out here and do this," Childs said.
Pfc. Justin Antonovich, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2-30 Infantry, said going through the hurricane with no power in the barracks was tough enough, but he knows people in DeRidder had it really rough without food and water. It is a good cause to assist with cleanup, help others and give back to the community, but it comes with being a Soldier, he said.
"We signed up to do things for this country. This is part of our job," Antonovich said. "I don't think it has to go noted, because it should be expected."
Sgt. 1st Class John Moffitt said his house and possessions were not damaged much during the hurricane compared to what he saw in DeRidder. It was not an issue for him to help "with the big stuff," he said.
"Are there other things I could be doing? Yes, but those things I've got plenty of time. ... These people don't have time; their lives are basically on hold," Moffitt said. "The sooner we get them up and running, the sooner we're up and running, because they support us as well as we support them."
The 2-30 Infantry’s assistance with cleanup efforts extended to DeRidder High School and DeRidder Middle School, which served as hurricane shelters.
The inside and outside of the schools needed to be cleaned up, said 2nd Lt. Adrian Meyer, platoon leader, 1st Platoon, B Company. As in West Park, 2-30 Infantry provided the manpower to help remove debris and cut trees and branches. Soldiers also helped sanitize the interior of the schools.
"We're just doing what we can so that the school can get cleaned up and up and running, so the kids can get back to school as soon as possible," Meyer said. "Hurricane Rita has pretty much put a stop to everything, so we're just out here trying to help out ... so that this part of Louisiana can get back to normal as quick as possible."
Welch said his Soldiers were enthusiastic about their clean-up efforts in DeRidder. Some 2-30 Infantry Soldiers have Hurricane Rita-related damages or outages to deal with themselves, including the platoon sergeant being without power and water and a lieutenant whose house has significant roof damage. Still, they are in DeRidder helping with the cleanup.
From the coastal region of Mississippi, Welch said his family knows about hurricane losses and assistance firsthand. He said his parents and brother just lost all of their possessions during Hurricane Katrina.
"Without the local people and without the National Guard coming from Camp Shelby ... the people down there would be suffering unbelievably," Welch said. "So to see the hurricane hit up here and to be able to be a part of it, the cleaning up process, it's almost like I'm repaying the people who helped my mother and father out."
Active-duty Soldiers came from the New Orleans area relief effort to help in Mississippi, Welch said.
Soldiers from 2-30 Infantry understand what local communities mean to the military, Welch added.
"I think it needs to be pointed out that we do appreciate all of the surrounding areas like DeRidder and Alexandria and Lake Charles (and what they) do for Fort Polk and the military," he said. "This is just one of the ways we can kind of help out, and if that means coming out to a park and cleaning it up for the kids and the people of DeRidder, then so be it."