Engineers remove debris after tornado, package food for community during COVID crisis
By Staff Sgt. Thea James and MSgt. Toby Valadie, LANG Public Affairs Office
MONROE, La. – Soldiers with the Louisiana National Guard’s 527th and 528th Engineer Battalions, 225th Engineer Brigade, began COVID-19 response efforts in Monroe, March 19. At the request of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, they also began hauling debris in support of local, parish and state officials after severe thunderstorms spawned several tornadoes in northeast Louisiana, Apr. 12.
Over 20 Soldiers are packing goods at Northeast Louisiana Food Bank, in Monroe, to distribute to residents in need during the stay-at-home period. On average, the Soldiers package over 700 boxes of food per day.
“They’ve come in and helped pack backpacks, bag produce and do a multitude of jobs around here that we usually strictly rely on volunteers to do,” said Ashley White, director of operations at the food bank. “They’re helping us continue to serve the people in our communities that are struggling with hunger. They are energetic, they’re happy to be here, and they’re willing to help. There’s been nothing that we have asked of them that they couldn’t do.”
Spc. Mackenzie Mack, with the 528th, grew up in Bernice, Louisiana, but he currently resides in Boston. He still drills with the LANG and elected to stay in town to help support the community during COVID-19 response efforts.
“I know that most people are out of jobs, and the boxes we are making here are helping to provide food for those in need,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to give back, so for me to be here this year and actually see the faces I’m helping feels good.”
As part of the clean-up mission, the LANG activated over 30 Guardsmen from the 225th, who used 10 dump trucks, two bulldozers, two skid steers and one excavator to collect and remove debris in West Monroe and Monroe.
“The Guard is a force multiplier and is able to respond on many fronts at once with heavy equipment for the tornadoes, assisting food bank operations and also delivering medical supplies across northeast Louisiana in support of COVID-19,” said Director Neal Brown, Ouachita Parish Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. “We know what the Guard can bring to the fight, and we appreciate the support.”
To date, the Guard has hauled over 7,200 tons of debris to collection sites across the parish. The LANG has also assisted in the preparation and operation of a debris collection site in West Monroe.
“To be able to assist our community in a time of need is a humbling and inspirational experience,” said Maj. Robert Bratton, executive officer of the 528th Engineer Battalion. “The Soldiers of the 528th have risen to the occasion and represented our state, community, and battalion with pride.”
The LANG has mobilized over 1,265 Soldiers and Airmen throughout the state to support current operations, including medical support, engineering assessment support, shelter security, traffic control point and drive-through testing site support, assistance at food banks, and to provide liaison officer teams to Parish Emergency Operations Centers.