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Sept. 7, 2005 —A week after the passage of Category 5 Hurricane Katrina, Department of Defense officials say the Pentagon has deployed an unprecedented amount of resources to the nation’s Gulf Coast to help speed rescue and recovery efforts. Briefing reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that the “greatest disaster recovery effort in America’s history is well under way.”

The Air Force, as of early Wednesday, has flown a total of 4,139 missions, moving 22,700 passengers and 10,400 tons of supplies and equipment. The list goes on: USAF helicopter search and rescue forces saved more than 4,900 people; medical personnel set up at Louis Armstrong International Airport have treated more than 5,500 injured and sick; aeromedical evacuation teams have moved 2,600 patients.

Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, head of Joint Task Force Katrina, speaking to reporters on Sept. 1, said, “The United States Air Force is decisively engaged in providing assets in terms of strategic lifts, to bring in units, as well as capability, and those are flowing as we speak.”

Units from across the country mobilized to bring support to disaster efforts and establish command centers. Among the first responders were Air Mobility Command contingency response personnel from McGuire AFB, N.J., and Travis AFB, Calif., and Air Force Special Operations Command combat controllers from Hurlburt Field, Fla., who helped open up the New Orleans airport for air operations. Active, Guard, and Reserve mobility forces began ferrying in from around the country support personnel, supplies, and equipment to New Orleans and other nearby airports, including hard-hit Keesler AFB, Miss. C-17s and C-130s could still use the damaged airfield at Keesler. (See an early list of Air Force support in “USAF and Katrina Relief.”

On Saturday, Army Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, declared that “dramatic changes” in the situation had been accomplished in the last 36 hours with a massive deployment of National Guard troops to the interior of New Orleans to secure the area. The effort enabled the evacuation of many residents who were still stranded in buildings and hotels in the downtown area.

In the Gulf Coast region of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi, six military installations—including Barksdale AFB, La., and Maxwell AFB, Ala.—are staging areas for relief and supplies. More than 41,000 National Guard and 17,000 active duty troops are on the ground in the region.

There are more than 350 helicopters and 75 fixed wing aircraft directly assisting relief efforts. SAR forces of all branches have rescued more than 13,000 people. As of the afternoon of Sept. 6, Pentagon officials said military forces had evacuated more than 75,000 people.

—Marc V. Schanz