I was flown down to Biloxi, MS a day after Hurricane Katrina hit to cover the USAF response to this disaster. When I arrived at the Biloxi airport I had orders to get a taxi and drive to Keesler AFB. Unfortunately, there were no taxis or rental cars, so I had to figure out a way to get to the base. As luck would have it, a wonderful older lady saw me standing with my bags and asked in her deep southern drawl "Where you all be headed to honey?". When I told her my story she said, "hell, the roads are hardly passable, too much destruction, but if you all will git in, I'll drive ya there!". I thanked her profusely, and proceeded to have a ride in a half to Keesler AFB.
I arrived, in tack, at the gate and presented my orders. The Security Guard thought I was nuts and I don't think he knew what an Air Force Artist was or why I would even come down, which was the running feelings on most of my Air Force trips. I found my way to the OPS center, got situated, and met up with the other artists from the program. We each were given our choice of assignments and had full access to the base and the personnel.
This was a Joint Operation, with all the branches of the military involved, so myself and another artist jumped on a USMC helicopter and took off to distribute aide to the surrounding areas. From the air, I could not believe the complete and utter devastation. Keesler AFB had sustained 90% infrastructure damage and as a training base, had flown out all of the students the night prior to Katrina hitting. They were loaded on every available cargo aircraft and flown to a base in Texas.
Flying with USMC pilots proved to be an experience. I believe they are partially insane and revel in this fact. Our pilot and crew were very accommodating, asking what we wanted to see. We told them we wanted to get the "big picture" from this vantage point, and they smiled and said;"sure". Shortly thereafter, we found ourselves tethered to the ramp of this helo, ramp down, with our cameras clicking away. What we didn't see was the pilot hovering over a very old cemetery, completely submerged in water teaming with alligators and blow flies. The next thing we knew, we were getting prop wash with this rancid water, and because we each had flight helmets on, could hear the crew whooping it up. Later that evening when we landed (flew all the way to New Orleans), we went to our rooms and scrubbed ourselves raw...
The next day we were driven to Biloxi to observe the joint military aide operations. We toured the areas that were the worst hit. These area were the poor sections of the city and really sustained the most damage. I saw the tremendous out pouring of support by the military to these residents and again was amazed at their determination to preserver.