Oregon Guardsmen: Katrina mission remembered

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DAYTON, Ore. (KOIN) — “It was, like, really crazy, because all of a sudden you’re in a post-apocalyptic America. It was a strange, strange feeling.”

Sean Davis, Ryan Tuttle and Kevin Hartman plus more than 2000 other members of the Oregon National Guard stepped up to search, patrol and help in any way they could following the massive destruction left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in September 2005.

It’s an experience they will never forget.

“I don’t think someone can live through that type of stuff and not think about it,” Davis told KOIN 6 News.

(L-R) Sean Davis, Ryan Tuttle and Kevin Hartman discussed their Hurricane Katrina experiences, Sept. 21, 2015 (KOIN)

Davis and Tuttle are retired from the National Guard, while Hartman remains active.  Davis is now an English professor at Mount Hood Community College, while Tuttle owns Threat Dynamics in Sherwood.

At a quiet picnic table surrounded by the beauty of Oregon’s Stoller Family Estate they shared their memories of where they were 10 years ago.What they saw

“To see part of your own country look completely a wasteland, I mean, it’s just wild,” Hartman said.

When these Oregon National Guardsmen responded to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit on August 29, 2005 nothing was where it was supposed to be.

Hurricane Katrina seen by satellite on Aug. 28, 2005 (NOAA)

“You had boats where houses were, you had houses in parking lots like 2 blocks away, houses on top of cars,” Hartman recalled.

They remember the smell. “Yeah, that was kind of the boots on the ground, boom, right in your face,” said Tuttle.

The water was rancid. “The dogs would drink the water and be dead that night,” Davis said. “It was pretty bad.”

They were in the midst of overwhelming death, destruction, chaos and heat. And they battled bugs.

“We had no bug spray, no bug repellent whatsoever,” Tuttle said. “We had guys medivaced out because of bug bites.”

Kevin Hartman discussed his Hurricane Katrina experiences, Sept. 21, 2015 (KOIN)

Even a decade later, the memories are vivid.

“I joke about it, even though it’s not funny,” Tuttle said. “I’d rather go back to Iraq than Katrina.”

At the time they were sent to New Orleans, Davis and Tuttle had only been back from Iraq for 6 months. Davis had been hurt in an IED explosion and ambush.

“It went up, exploded, took our HumVee up,” he said. They lost a good friend in the explosion.Duty called

But they knew they were needed in New Orleans.

“Same weapons. Same outfit. We call it Battle Rattle,” Davis said. “It still had dirt from Iraq in it, you know, and you’re patrolling New Orleans, you know? And we commandeered the city buses as patrol vehicles.”

During one of their searches, Davis came across a woman named Mimi.

Ryan Tuttle discussed his Hurricane Katrina experiences, Sept. 21, 2015 (KOIN)

“She was an insulin-dependent diabetic,” he told KOIN 6 News. “Her body was going into shock. We had to go run down an ambulance and, actually, the ambulance we found was for the animals.”

They gave her insulin and saved her life. “But she said, ‘I was born in this house, I was raised in this house and I’m going to die in this house.’ (I said) ‘Mimi, you got to go.'”

They arrived in New Orleans after Katrina “hit them in the face,” Hartman said.

People were grateful for the help, But Tuttle added, “I felt like everyone was still waiting for Uncle Sam to show up with the rescue and the water.”

They felt everyone’s frustration.

“We were kind of the face of that,” Tuttle told KOIN 6 News.What they learned

Those days in New Orleans gave them insight into human nature.

Sean Davis discussed his Hurricane Katrina experiences, Sept. 21, 2015 (KOIN)

“In that level of desperation and, really, just human nature turns into straight survival mode,” Tuttle said. “And the people that were your neighbors now can, they ultimately can become an enemy or they can become an ally.”

Davis added, “You never know when something like that is going to hit, you know, and you can go one of these ways. You can, ‘Alright I’m going to go out and loot and rob,’ or ‘I’m going to go out and help my neighbor.’  And there was really both of that, really. You don’t know the type of person someone is until they’re living through extreme and horrible situations.”

Their Hurricane Katrina mission was challenging. But they wouldn’t shirk from doing it again.

“I wouldn’t have changed anything,” Davis said. “If it happened today, I would try and go, you know?”

Hartman, who is still an active service member, said,  “We’re made for this. The National Guard is made for this. It’s exactly what we’re here for.”

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