By Staff Sgt. Ivyann N. Caraballo, 136th Airlift Wing, Public Affairs
/ Published September 21, 2008
September 20, 2008 -- GALVESTON, TX (September 19, 2008) - - The aftermath of Hurricane Ike left the citizens of Galveston without basic necessities such as potable water or power but it did leave them with the one thing most crucial to rebuilding - Hope.
While most of the residents had evacuated prior to the storm reaching landfall, others elected to stay. For them hope came in the form of medical personnel from the Texas National Guard. The usual mission for Air National Guard medical personnel is to provide medical support to deployed military members, now they were able to use that expertise to assist Texans in need.
"Our main focus was to take care of and give medical support to our guardsmen, but it manifested into a larger scale by providing medical assistance to the citizens," said Col. David L. Patten, deputy commander, Texas Medical Command. Colonel Patten is also a physician's assistant for the unit. He refers to this operation as "mission creep," describing how a small mission leads to a larger one.
"These residents were highly encouraged to leave because business wouldn't be open or the hospital would have a shallow staff and limited services," said Lt. Col. Joe D. Pendon, physician, 149th Medical Group.
"Some of those medical issues we saw in the residents as well as our guardsmen and first responders were common health problems, the common cold, upper respiratory problems, skin rashes, small procedures like treating minor lacerations, and even providing some every-day medicine." Because the hospital had very limited staff and service, we could extend our care to them as well," said Colonel Pendon.
"The major challenge during our time here was evacuating these citizens in a safe, orderly and timely fashion, because we had to process and examine them, and then figure a way to transport them to San Antonio," added Colonel Pendon.
"Some of the patients we examined were not able to be transported on the bus because they weren't stable enough, so they stayed at the University of Texas Medical Branch," said Capt. William A. Gentry, medical officer, 149th Fighter Wing. "Though the hospital had a skeleton crew we were glad they assisted us with these patients."
"We also had animals in the mix to evacuate to include birds, fish, dogs and cats, and that became a challenge. Our decision to have one bus for the evacuees and one for their pets was scrapped and depending on their medical conditions everybody was pretty much evacuated together with their pets," said Colonel Patten.
Our Texas Military Forces had long days but were willing to help the Galveston residents. "We even helped some elderly citizens who couldn't make it to the high school, and sent teams to their residences to take them down the stairs and transport them to the school," said Colonel Pendon.
"One time we had to send one of our teams to assist in getting a patient out of a high-rise because they were unable to get out of the house," said Colonel Patten.
"The challenge of this evacuation was a little overwhelming such as the hot and humid conditions our own guardsmen faced or the challenge as to where we were going to stay, sleep and shower," said Captain Fabian DeLaRosa, physician assistant, 149th Medical Group.
"It was almost like deploying to the field, we had to bring our own power, food, water, living quarters," said Colonel Pendon.
"The buses that carried special needs patients had one medic on each of those buses with an ambulance driving in the back too," said Captain Gentry.
The 149th medical members also assisted at point of distribution, POD sites where water, ice and supplies were being handed out to storm victims, some included the Galveston evacuees, according to Captain Gentry.
"We arrived at Ellington in the middle of the week to assist in medical care for POD sites, said Captain Gentry. Captain Gentry was responsible for medical oversight of not only the medics but the airmen and soldiers at the PODS sites.
Other challenges included the right amount of supplies ordered and distributed to the PODs; examining some of the patients with medical conditions, and being in a joint environment understanding certain medical processes from the Army side; so there were long 20-hour days," said Captain Gentry. "However I couldn't have done this work without having such a great staff, who I can delegate care to and feel comfortable in doing so."
"The 149th Medical Group had approximately 30 members when they arrived in Galveston on Saturday, September 12, and we have been working since we arrived," stated Captain DeLaRosa.
"On the Army National Guard side we roughly had a staff of 13 people with nurses and combat medics and we also arrived here on the 12th," said Colonel Patten.
Though their mission is coming to a close and members of the 149th Medical Group had left Friday, with some of the Army National Guard's medical personnel remaining for the next few days, they agree that it was a good experience and glad they had an impact on the Galveston community.
The residents showed tremendous gratitude. "During one of our infrequent breaks we ate at a Whataburger and some of the people approached us to thank us for being here," stated Colonel Pendon.
Though business are slowly opening again, as is the case with any major natural disaster, there are still weeks and months of recovery ahead for these citizens, but the Texas Military Forces were there to help make the recovery a little easier for the citizens of Galveston.
"The area where the hurricane hit was badly damaged, houses and businesses were blown away, water lines are broken and poles are toppled over," said Colonel Pendon. "It almost looked like we were back in the 1800's because simple modern conveniences like power and water aren't available."
"Though our lives may resume, the people of Galveston have weeks and months to put everything back together; our hearts go out to Galveston and the surrounding area - still hard times to come, but we are glad to be part of helping our fellow Texans," said Colonel Pendon.