Please read today's Chicago Tribune story on the Bataan and its C.O.'s frustration with being under utilized while several other Navy ships are still en route to get to the area.
1,200 sailors that can aid in cleanup and clearing of roadways. The ability to produce drinking water and delivering it (helicopters). A 600 bed hospital with doctors with nothing else to do.
Add this to the list of the indictment of the federal government's mismanagement of the response.
Note, unlike the Cmd. of the Guard who claims that reaching the area was all but impossible until now. This Navy commander believes he could get personel wherever they're needed.
Then the Bataan was ordered to move to the waters off Biloxi, Miss., and LCU-1656 was ordered to return. The landing craft was 40 miles from New Orleans, but it wouldn't be able to deliver its cargo.
"It was a disappointment," Fish said. "I figured we would be a big help in New Orleans. We've got electricity, and the police could have charged up their radios. We've got water, toilets. We've got food."
Now sailing within 25 miles of Gulfport, Miss., the Bataan has become a floating warehouse. Supplies from Texas and Florida are ferried out to the ship, and the helicopters distribute them where Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel say they are needed.
The Bataan has also taken on a substantial medical staff. Helicopters ferried 84 doctors, nurses and technicians 60 miles out to the ship from the Pensacola Naval Air Station on Friday, and on Saturday afternoon 24 of the medical personnel were flown to the New Orleans Convention Center where they expected to augment the staff of an Air Force medical clinic on the center's bus parking lot. The medical staff had come from Jacksonville, Fla., Naval Hospital, and they covered a wide swath of medical specialties from surgeons and pediatricians to heart specialists, a psychiatrist and even a physical therapist.
"It's really a cross section of a major hospital," said Capt. Kevin Gallagher, a Navy nurse who was part of the group. "We haven't been told what to expect, but we're going to find out once we get out there."
Moving in, ready to go
On Friday evening the Bataan was edging closer to the Mississippi shoreline; until then, it had stayed well out into the gulf to avoid floating debris.
Closer to shore, it will be able to deploy the landing craft again, as well as Marine hovercraft that can ride up onto shore to deliver supplies.
LCU-1656 cruised 98 miles overnight Thursday with a failed electrical generator and broken starboard propeller to join up again with the Bataan, their mother ship. After repairs, it was to set out for the shoreline near Gulfport, Miss., Saturday with a 15,000 water tank lashed to vessel's deck, as well as pallets of bottled water.
The role in the relief effort of the sizable medical staff on board the Bataan was not up to the Navy, but to FEMA officials directing the overall effort.
That agency has been criticized sharply for failing to respond quickly enough.
Tyson said the hurricane was an unusual event that has left some painful lessons.
"Can you do things better? Always," Tyson said. "Unfortunately, some of the lessons we have learned during this catastrophe we are learning the hard way. But I think we're working together well to make things happen."