GULFPORT, Miss. -- Special Forces Soldiers with the 2nd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Mississippi Army National Guard responded to Hurricane Isaac making landfall on the Mississippi gulf coast beginning Aug. 29, by patrolling the flooded areas of Hancock County in their zodiac inflatable boats.
The Soldiers' mission is to search for and rescue anyone trapped by the storm surge and flooding.
The group arrived on the gulf coast the day before Hurricane Isaac was to make landfall and began preparations.
"We made contact with the Emergency Operations Centers and established communication with them," said Chief Warrant Officer Patrick A. Chaney, a boat team captain from Grenada, Miss. serving with C Company, 2nd Bn., 20th SFG (Airborne). "We had a sheriff's deputy assigned to us and we met with him the night before to make plans."
The deputies provided critical local knowledge of the area and its residents so the boat teams could plan and conduct searches of areas that were expected to be flooded.
In the early morning of Wednesday, August 29 as Isaac was pouring heavy rains and winds in the coastal counties, the boat teams ventured into the storm as the waters were rising to begin their mission.
"When we first rolled out, we had a pretty good idea of where we needed to go first," said Cheney.
"The [Emergency Operations Center] relayed missions to us," said Sgt. 1st Class Fred R. Flurry, a 20th SFG (Airborne) medic and team leader from Madison, Miss. "We also found a lot of people with word of mouth from residents."
Sometimes there would be people standing at the edge of a flooded road to let us know that one of their neighbors needed help, Cheney said.
After finding a resident needing to be evacuated, the teams helped them into their boats along with their luggage and pets. The Soldiers then transported them to supporting teams waiting with high mobility vehicles to carry them out of the flood zones.
"There is a lot of support and coordination that is involved before you ever get the boats in," said Cheney. "Things have been working like they are supposed to. We train for this with readiness exercises with the whole unit and support personnel."
The teams worked throughout the day Wednesday and Thursday regardless of the wind, rain and high water and returned to their makeshift base in a Knights of Columbus meeting hall for much needed rest and to prepare for the next day's missions.
Despite the conditions and long hours the unit members keep a good attitude and appreciate being able to help others.
Coming to the coast and helping the residents of this area is certainly worth the effort, said Cheney.
"I like it," said Flurry. "It's good not to just watch this on the news and not be able to do anything. It's good to help someone."