When Hurricane Katrina hit in the summer of 2005, as Iraq-based DOD contractors, we were given the option to deploy back to the States to help with the aftermath. There were many contractors in our particular collection of camps who were from Louisiana, and everyone supported their decision to go offer much needed help back in the States. Since that time, America has been hit with several notable natural disasters, and I remember how proud I was of our Alabama National Guard when they were on duty immediately after the deadly April 2011 tornadoes.
Storms and natural disasters bring out the best and the worst in us—people panic and don’t realize how contagious their fear can become. At times they try to “run back into the burning building,” whatever that may look like in the situation, and either don’t know or don’t care that they are endangering the lives of those who are trying to help them. In short, natural disasters are in their own way a combat zone, and military service members who put themselves in harm’s way for our sake are now going to be honored for doing so. I say, “It’s about time.”
On December 3, the Pentagon announced that a specific medal is now going to be awarded to qualified service personnel who participated in rescue and humanitarian aid operations at home and abroad between 2017 and 2019. Many people are not aware of what a “force for good” all branches of our military have been in dealing with the “forces of nature.” For example, in the 2018 typhoons which struck Guam, the Mariana Islands, Hong Kong, and southern China, over 800 troops from across the service branches were directly involved in helping.
Regarding relief and rescue operations during and after 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, the Coast Guard, National Guard, Air Force, Marine Reserves, and a Navy amphibious unit with Marines aboard were all deployed. Because the damage caused by Irma and Maria in 2018 was so catastrophic and widespread, the U.S. organized a joint task force called Leeward Islands. At its peak, Leeward Islands included "more than 300 Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen, as well as 10 Army and Marine helicopters, four U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft, the U.S. Navy's amphibious ship USS Wasp, the expeditionary fast transport vessel USNS Spearhead, and support from Navy P8 Poseidon and P3 Orion aerial reconnaissance aircraft," according to the DOD.
Along with the natural disaster-related service medal, a specific designation has also been introduced for those who have been deployed along the southern border of the United States. Its designation is for those troops who serve but "encounter no foreign armed opposition or imminent hostile action.” Having lived in Mexico on the border and hearing gunfire, knowing that the U.S. Border Patrol could not fire back and that there had in fact been cartel “troops” who crossed the border to fire upon our agents, there is a part of me that is genuinely annoyed by the “no-foreign-armed-opposition-or-imminent-hostile-action” part. However, at the end of the day, I am glad that honor is being given where honor is due to all our service members.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner