by Angela Woolen
78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
8/26/2015 - ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- The
stories tell the same tales. The destruction Hurricane Katrina left
when it made landfall Aug. 29, 2005, was immense. Now 10 years later,
Robins team members are sharing their stories of what it was like during
and after the storm.
"The devastation was unbelievable," said Marty Cain, 78th Air Base Wing
legacy systems maintainer, who traveled to Biloxi, Mississippi, with a
group of co-workers and church members.
"All the oak trees were just stripped. The houses were stripped to the
foundations," Cain remembered. What his group of a few dozen did was
mostly repair homes and cut down trees. Part of their efforts included
rescuing an elderly lady who had been trapped in her home due to fallen
During his week-long stay -- in which the assembly stayed in tents on
someone's farm in Lyman, Mississippi -- Cain saw another place which was
buzzing with hummingbirds looking for food.
"You can't appreciate the scope of the damage through videos or pictures," he said.
In fact, the storm affected areas from Louisiana to Alabama causing
1,304 deaths and $50 billion in damages, according to a report by Dr.
Daniel Haulman, Nov. 17, 2006, titled, "The U.S. Air Force Response to
Between Aug. 23 and 29, the Air Force flew 109 hours in WC-130 airplanes
which were used to measure and track the hurricane in the Gulf of
"Air Force fixed wing aircraft, including C-130s, C-17s and C-5s, flew
crucial airlift missions to transport both people and equipment and
supplies," the report said.
The Air Force evacuated 2,602 medical patients and an additional 26,943 displaced people from the area.
In all branches, the Department of Defense "flew 12,786 helicopter
sorties, rescued 15,000 citizens and transported 80,000 people," Haulman
A 433rd Airlift Wing C-5 shuttled more than 1,200 patients from New
Orleans to San Antonio, Texas. The aircraft also brought in large water
pumps from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, to help pump water from the
flooded New Orleans.
Robins deployed 68 personnel and $4 million in equipment for the relief
effort from the 51st Combat Communications Squadron and volunteers from
the 52nd Combat Communication Squadron were also called upon to aid in
setting up communications, according to Tech Sgt. Joshua Bendall,
historian for the group.
"We brought everything we had," said Master Sgt. Brad Schafer, 78th
Medical Group first sergeant and formerly with the 5th Combat
The main mission for the group was to set up communications at Keesler
Air Force Base near Gulfport, Mississippi, and to provide assistance to
the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The deployed Airmen stayed in
the student triangle at the base during their six- to eight-week stay.
Schafer remembered the base commissary being flooded with water and cars
floating. He said technical school students at the base were told to
leave their cars and were evacuated to other bases.
Cars were spray painted with insurance company's names, and houses were
also marked to let others know it had been checked for survivors.
"It reminded me of a city dump," Schafer said. "All around were trash
piles, but those piles were houses. It looked like someone had picked
the house up, crumbled it and dropped it back down,"
Master Sgt. Avis Smith, now the the Robins Airman and Family Readiness
Center noncommissioned officer in charge, was stationed at Keesler
during the storm. Her husband and three children evacuated to Atlanta
while she sheltered on base.
She and her fellow co-workers stayed in the dorms, which were made of
thick concrete while the storm hit. In the interior rooms, Smith said
she couldn't hear much, but in the bathroom or stairwell the noise was a
"It sounds like the roof was falling apart," she said.
Her siblings lived in New Orleans and lost their homes. Her father, a firefighter in the city, had to gut his house.
For years, Smith wouldn't drive along the coast.
"I couldn't stand looking at it," she said of the loss of the antebellum
homes along the Gulf Coast along with countless trademark
restaurants and shops.
Cain was one who did drive along the beach.
"There was not a single home standing. It was as ugly as it could get," he said.
Joel Watson, a C-130 aircraft overhaul supervisor with the 560th
Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, was on a different mission. He went to
the city as part of an animal rescue. His wife heard there were three
women who wanted to help animals in the area.
"When we got off the exit, going into Mobile, Alabama, there were people looting," Watson said.
The closer they got to where the hurricane made landfall, the worse the roads were.
"There were big old shrimp boats turned upside down. It was creepy," Watson said.
Watson said even with all the devastation and the sadness that came with
the tragedy, he was able to take away a touch of happiness when he
brought home a Catahoula hound dog he named Jazz.
"I got a good dog from it," Watson said.