The 82nd’s Robert Stanley patrols the flooded streets of New Orleans in 2005. He was killed March 2007, in Samarra, Iraq.
Earlier this year, with recruitment tanking and its forces strapped down in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army’s famed 82nd Airborne Division was forced to disband one of its best known missions, the “division ready brigade” — a contingent of troops on stand-by at all times ready to deploy anywhere in the world within 18 hours.
The 82nd’s ready brigade has been an integral part of the United States’ relief preparations for domestic disasters such as hurricanes for years. But now, as the 2007 hurricane season begins, the entire 82nd Division is leaving United States for the first time since it was deployed to Iraq in 1990 as part of Operation Desert Storm — and none of its divisions will return until September, when the season is over:
When a jet lifts off Sunday at Pope Air Force Base with the commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team and the last load of his 3,300 paratroopers aboard, the 82nd Airborne Division will notch one more hard-earned mark in a history so often described as “storied.”
For only the second time since World War II, all of the division’s combat infantry brigades will be at war. Other 82nd units are deployed also, bringing the total overseas to nearly 17,000 paratroopers.
One of the most memorable successful stateside deployments of the 82nd’s ready brigade was to South Florida in response to the Hurricane Andrew disaster in August 1992. The 82nd provided food, shelter and medical attention in the region for 30 days.
In 2005, however, Pres. George Bush’s incredible six-day delay after Katrina before sending the 82nd’s ready brigade to New Orleans was the worst of a cluster of bad decisions that came out of the White House. It was this failure of leadership that finally woke many Americans up to the depth of the president’s incompetence.
On Monday, August 30, 2005, the day after Katrina’s storm surge breached the levies and flooded New Orleans’ low-lying neighborhoods, the 82nd was put on alert at Fort Bragg, N.C., for deployment into the region:
[A] battalion would have been ready to move as early as Tuesday, said Major Gen. Bill Caldwell, commander of the 82nd .
“We could have immediately responded within 18 hours,” he said. “We could have come here, had we been asked, at any point.”
As the days dragged on in New Orleans — while thousands of people were stranded in the Superdome, dozens were rescued off roofs and others drowning in the flooded streets — millions of Americans watching the disaster on television were wondering — Where is the 82nd?
It wasn’t until six days after Katrina struck, at 10 o’clock Saturday morning, September 3, that the 82nd was called into New Orleans. Even then, Pres. Bush made the announcement to the media before he or anyone in his government officially notified commanders of the 82nd’s ready brigade.
The 2006 storm season was comparatively mild, but now as the 2007 season gets underway, the American South faces its first hurricane season without the 82nd Airborne on alert and ready to move in if the unthinkable happens — again.