‘You Guys are Everywhere’: National Guard Receives Pick-Me-Up from USO During Hurricane Ida Disaster Relief Efforts

By Barry Morris

It’s 2005 and you’re a sixteen-year-old high schooler living in Louisiana.

One late-summer night, you’re jolted awake by your parents and told your family is evacuating your home – now. There’s no time to explain – let alone pack a bag – so you leave everything that is precious to you behind to escape to safety before it’s too late.

In the blink of an eye, Hurricane Katrina destroyed your family’s house and almost all of your possessions, leaving you and your loved ones with nothing but the clothes on your backs. However, thanks to the Louisiana National Guard, you were provided with the essentials as you and your family recovered from the storm. You aspired to be like those real-life heroes one day.

Fast-forward 16 years, and you are now proudly serving in the National Guard.

You see on the news that Hurricane Ida is headed straight toward your home state of Louisiana, taking you back to that summer when Hurricane Katrina destroyed everything you owned. However, this time, instead of needing a helping hand, it’s your turn to give back to the community you love and grew up in, now as a member of the Louisiana National Guard yourself.

It sounds like a made-for-TV movie story, but this is Army Spc. Jonathon Robin’s real-life experience.

Service members fuel up with cool drinks and tasty snacks at the Mobile USO unit. | Photo credit USO/Barry Morris

“It was the Louisiana National Guard who was there for us in our greatest time of need, and since then, all I ever wanted to do is give back to my community and serve in the Guard to help during situations like these,” Robin said.

Robin, who has been serving with the National Guard for the past nine years, is among the thousands of service members – including 5,100 from Louisiana and others from Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas – that have been activated to help local authorities with search and rescue, cleanup and other critical post-storm operations.

National Guard members have been working around the clock, tackling 12-hour shifts in the sweltering humidity and heat to provide security and distribute food, water and ice to residents at multiple strategic locations. On average, National Guard members have seen roughly 2,500 cars a day drive through each location.

A USO staffer helps stock the Mobile USO unit. | Photo credit USO/Scotty Moro

“Even though they waited for hours, the local citizens have been very pleased that we are here, it’s all about serving the community,” said Staff Sgt. Natosha Lowery, who has served in the Arkansas National Guard for over 16 years, including a deployment to Iraq.

Lowery and her fellow National Guard members are providing comfort and security for the local community impacted by Hurricane Ida and went straight to work within two hours of arriving in Louisiana.

“It brings tears to your eyes sometimes when you stop and think about it, to see these children come up with their moms and dads, hungry, tired and hot, it’s very rewarding to give back,” she said.

Service members pose with a USO sign. | Photo credit USO

Whenever their 12 hour shifts are done, National Guard members like Lowery typically return to their lodging sites, catch a quick shower, eat a meal and connect with loved ones before sleeping for a few hours – only to wake up and do it all over again the next day.

Although they are proud to serve, it doesn’t take long for this schedule to become mentally and physically draining for even the most dedicated service member, making any form of outside connection or entertainment a welcome distraction.

Photo credit USO/Scotty Moro

Service members relax and enjoy refreshments at the Mobile USO unit.

That’s why Mobile USO vehicles – essentially USO centers on wheels – are such a highly requested service during a natural disaster response. Whenever National Guard members see the USO’s vehicles and those famous three letters that they have come to know and love, they know a taste of home is waiting for them when they stop by the Mobile USO vehicle.

Photo credit USO

Service members enjoy a delivery from the Mobile USO team.

“You guys are everywhere, all the places I have been to, the USO is always there,” Lowery said.

As the National Guard gives back to the local community devasted by Hurricane Ida, the USO gives back to these hardworking service members out in the heat for hours on-end. Throughout New Orleans and the surrounding parishes, four Mobile USO units have been providing a place for service members to relax, connect with loved ones and recharge during their downtime.

Photo credit USO

Service members enjoy a delivery from the Mobile USO team.

In downtown New Orleans outside a National Guard lodging site, a large Mobile USO unit – dubbed “Big Blue” – provided cold refreshments, snacks, a variety of hygiene items, a large screen television and movies, comfy seats and more to National Guard members looking for a much-needed break. In the surrounding parishes, “Sprinter” Mobile USO units provided snacks, water and other hygiene items to bolster the morale of National Guard members on the front lines of the hurricane relief efforts.

Photo credit USO/Barry Morris

Service members relax at the Mobile USO unit.

Often, Mobile USO staffers will also have USO Care Packages, of either the Toiletry Pack or Snack Pack variety, on-hand to give to service members, many of whom had little time to pack personal care items ahead of their rapid deployment. These innovative care packages are constructed with a durable, tan, nylon material that has a M.O.L.L.E. system on the back for attachment to most military-issued gear, which is perfect for a deployed guardsman on the go.

Photo credit USO/Barry Morris

Service members enjoy relaxing outside of the Mobile USO unit.

“It’s a pleasure to be out here serving our troops with the basic essentials they need to continue serving the community during times like this,” said Bobby Wooldridge, a USO operations and programs specialist on the ground in the wake of Hurricane Ida.

Although the future of hurricane season 2021 remains uncertain, and Hurricane Ida recovery efforts continue, the USO stands ready and prepared to serve any Guard, Reserve or active duty troops designated to help with hurricane relief efforts.

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