Returning from class to his apartment in Temple Towers, Nate Hartenbach received a phone call from the National Guard confirming his unit was being deployed to Louisiana for hurricane relief.
“I didn’t know what I was stepping into,” Hartenbach said. “But I was ready to go.”
So Hartenbach, a sophomore communications major from Catawissa, Pa., withdrew from his classes, sold his books and reported to his unit in Hazelton the next day. It would be his first deployment since signing up for the National Guard in April 2003, and he was ready to go.
His unit, Alpha Troop Second of the 104th Calvary Scout, waited for official orders before leaving for Louisiana on Sunday, Sept. 4. After three days of driving, Hartenbach and a convoy of 360 vehicles arrived in Louisiana.
The unit first spent time in Alexandria, La., to prepare for the type of work they would be doing. Then they traveled to Kenner, a suburb on the western edge of the greater New Orleans metropolitan area, where Hartenbach and his unit spent most of the next five weeks. The mission was mostly humanitarian and partially stabilization.
Hartenbach worked at a point of distribution, where soldiers handed out goods to civilians in need. Hartenbach said most people were grateful.
“People really wanted help. We helped a lot of people, over 2,000 families a day,” Hartenbach said. “We saw a lot of people two or three times a day.”
Hartenbach said some people were frustrated after waiting in line for hours, especially if supplies temporarily ran out.
“I can understand why,” he said. “If you go home and all you find is your front steps.”
Another part of the mission was stabilization in New Orleans. By the time Hartenbach and his unit arrived, the looting was mostly under control by local police forces. Many buildings, however, had been stripped open.
“We actually saw people steal a forklift to lift a gate to get in Rite Aid,” Hartenbach said.
But National Guard troops monitored the area, making their presence known to deter looting, Hartenbach said.
Signing up for the National Guard, he expected to be deployed some time in his college career. However, he did not expect to be deployed for a situation like Hurricane Katrina.
“Usually when the National Guard is called, it’s for the state you’re in,” he said.
Because so many Louisiana National Guardsmen are stationed in the Middle East, Hartenbach explained, troops from other states were pulled into the devastated area.
Hartenbach returned last week to Temple to move out of his apartment in Temple Towers. Although he is now a semester behind, he feels the experience was worth it.
A positive aspect of deployment, he said, was helping people who needed the help, an opportunity not many people get to experience first hand.
“It was a good deployment overall,” Hartenbach said. “You actually see the people you are helping.”
Hartenbach said it was hard to see people suffering. He recalled a time when he stopped a woman and asked her if she was OK. She had not been to her house after the hurricane hit, and she didn’t know if it was still standing. He offered her food and water.
“Sometimes it really touches you,” he said.
Although he enjoys traveling and being a part of the National Guard, deployment is a definite adjustment.
“It’s hard to get yanked out of your life,” he said. “You miss your girlfriend. You miss your family.”
Hartenbach will most likely have to put his education on hold again before he graduates. He is almost certain his unit will be deployed overseas by either late 2007 or early 2008.
“I always knew this would happen,” he said. “I expected to be in Iraq. We had warning orders to go to Iraq. Deployment to Iraq is a lot longer.”
Hartenbach did not encounter any problems withdrawing from classes. Until next semester he is going to spend some time at home relaxing.
“It all worked out fine,” Hartenbach said. “I’ll jump back in in January.”
Leigh Zaleski can be reached at Leigh.firstname.lastname@example.org.