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Posts Tagged ‘Morial Convention Center’

Zero Notice

August 5th, 2015 Comments off

Hands Up

Over the past ten years, I have had the privilege of interviewing some amazing and awesome Hurricane Katrina heroes; from the highest levels of the military to lowest below sea level New Orleans neighborhood responders. Every interaction has been special to me.

However, if I had to select a hand full of the ones that stood out, my May ’09 telephone interview with the 82nd Airborne Division Commanding Officer Major General William Caldwell, now Lieutenant General (Retired) and current president of Georgia Military College, would definitely be one of them.

I learned back in 2005 to maintain silence, to not interrupt the interviewees once they get going. I realized that they all were reliving the drama and/or the trauma of Katrina. When I use to jump in with questions, it would throw them off track. Hence, my methodology quickly evolved to just listening, electronically recording with permission and note taking. Any questions that I might have would be emailed to the interviewee a few days later. 

So, MG Caldwell begins reliving his Katrina experience. I’m on the other end of the line saying to myself, “This is deep.”  Most of what he shared centered around the events of September 3, 2005, the day Pres. Bush called in the 82nd Airborne via his weekly radio address giving in the White House Rose Garden; making it the first time ever in its sixty-three year history that the 82nd Airborne was deployed with “zero” notice. Even so, the 82nd Airborne prides themselves on deploying anywhere around the world within eighteen hours. Their nickname is “All American.” Their motto is “All the Way!”  

Throughout the previous night, the USAF began diverting C-17 Globemasters from Afghanistan and Iraq to Pope AFB, North Carolina, adjacent to Fort Bragg. MG Caldwell went on to tell me that because of the humanitarian crisis on the Gulf Coast the 82nd Airborne command staff did something they would never ever do in the Middle East, South Asia or any other war theater; they all boarded the same aircraft. By early afternoon on 9/3/05, the first wave of Globemasters were in the air heading westerly. But there was one major logistical problem. They had no confirmed destination. MG Caldwell kept heading up to the C-17 flight deck asking if there was any word yet on their humanitarian mission. Time after time he was told, “None yet General.”

MSY

New Orleans Louis Armstrong Airport on 9/3/05

Finally, after flying hundreds of nautical miles, word came up from FORSCOM HQ in suburban Atlanta some 30,000 feet below. The first wave was to proceed to New Orleans Louis Armstrong Int’l (MSY) Airport. Once there, MG Caldwell was to report to Lt. General Russel Honore and receive orders.

On a normal day anywhere in the world when a huge C-17 Globemaster lands and taxis, other aircraft get out of the way. Not this day at NO Armstrong Airport, where they immediately found themselves in gridlock. This piece of federally controlled and City of New Orleans-owned property had arguably become the busiest airspace in the world. I was told by air traffic controllers that every fifteen seconds, helicopters landed, taxied, offloaded passengers and patients, and lifted off to go back and get more. The C-17 pilot was finally able to taxi to the cargo terminal area and park. The fact that there were no runway, taxiway or tarmac aircraft incursions that fateful week is still an amazing feat to this date.

The photo below and to the right features (l to r): LG Russel Honore, First Army Commanding Officer; MG William Caldwell IV, 82nd AB CO; MG Dwight Landreneau, Louisiana Adjutant General; and US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. It was taking on 9/4/05 at MSY Airport. I call it “The Katrina Generals” photo. The photo below and to the left, MG Caldwell. The three C-17 Globemasters in the middle photo, represent the 9/3/05 82nd AB humanitarian first wave out Pope AFB.

Charleston Nine C-17 Hands Up

Basically, LG Honore told MG Caldwell. “Whatever you see broke, fix it!” During those Katrina Aftermath days, many asked why it took five days for the President to call in the 82nd Airborne. Two words, the “Convention Center.” Hmm, maybe two more words, “Posse Comitatus.”

The world still doesn’t know what really happened in New Orleans because the world has never really come to grips with what it saw on those September 1, 2005, live feeds; thousands Americans begging for help in the richest country on Earth. For lack of any reasonable explanation the world went with the Kanye West Theory, “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People”; which in my opinion came out of the Mayor Ray Nagin WWL radio interview the evening of 9/1, when he told Pres. Bush to get his ass moving on New Orleans. Again, two words, “Convention Center.”

LASP

Louisiana State Police on patrolling Convention Center Blvd on 9/1/05

In July 2012, I wrote “The Events of 9/1: A Katrina Essay.” I thoroughly broke down the series of events that led to those sad images we all saw coming out of the New Orleans Ernest Morial Convention Center. What started it all? The shooting death of a Lower 9th Ward resident Danny Brumfeld by a NOPD officer on Convention Center Boulevard in the early morning hours of 9/1/05. Unbeknownst to the public, that early morning tragedy became the nexus for fear in the Greater New Orleans Area. Why? Because by the time the story of the shooting reached Mayor Ray Nagin a mile away at the Hyatt Regency, the facts had been flipped. Mayor Nagin was told that the citizens, the “thugs,” had been shooting at the NOPD. How do I know all of this? I interviewed Manatee County, Florida Homicide Detective Bill Waldron. While in town as a witness for a murder trial, he became stranded and ended up at the Convention Center. He saw it all.  

The above event, along with a non lethal friendly-fire shooting of a Louisiana National Guardsman about two hours earlier at the Superdome, led to a total breakdown in confidence, which quickly spreaded amongst the many Katrina Responder agencies. How do I put this? The light-skinned (Creole) African American New Orleans leadership became scared to death of their brown-skinned (and darker) African American constituents. It’s a New Orleans history thing. The problem is the Katrina Responders received the blame. My book series project is dedicated to ALL Katrina responders.

What does all this have to do with MG Caldwell and the 82nd Airborne? Well, the first thing that needed “fixing” was the confidence factor. Well, now you know MG Caldwell ordered his top staff to get NO Armstrong Airport straight first-first. Anyways, they jumped right on it, with a show of command and control, compassion, inter-agency communication, professionalism and protection.

Under MG Caldwell’s direction and “humanitarian” rules of engagement, the paratroopers got out and WALKED among the citizens. When the survivors and non-military responders saw those maroon berets, it was a good thing. There was very little more to fear. Based on my ten years of research into the Katrina Response, the 82nd Airborne literally saved the day!

Paratrooper Woods

Paratrooper V.J. Woods

As our interview concluded, I told MG Caldwell about my father, Louisiana-native Mr. V. J. Woods, an 82nd Airborne Paratrooper from back in the 1950′s. And you know I had a bunch of followup questions for the general. He thanked me for what I was doing, working on getting the real story of Katrina out to the world. I thanked him for his service and taking time to chat with me. A few days later he mailed a letter, along with his commander’s coin to my father thanking him for his service some sixty years earlier. He then overnighted me his entire declassified after action report from their Katrina deployment; a wealth of information for a New Orleans researcher like myself. ALL THE WAY!

MG Caldwell’s contribution, along with the scores of other Katrina Responders, has helped to guarantee that CONTRAFLOW: A Katrina Heptalogy will be one amazing book series.

 


M. Darryl Woods, Lead Researcher
The Contraflow Project




Validation and Transition

March 25th, 2013 Comments off


Bill Waldron, Retired Manatee County Sheriff's Office Homicide Detective and Candidate for Manatee County Sheriff '12In August of 2005 I was in New Orleans to testify in a murder trial on behalf of the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office for my role in the 2003 Homicide investigation of victim Shawn Johnson in the French Quarter and the apprehension of 2 of the 3 suspects in my jurisdiction. I had assisted New Orleans Police Homicide detectives during this investigation while serving as a Homicide Detective with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office (M.C.S.O.) in Bradenton, Florida, which will be profiled on the Investigation Discovery Channel series “Dead of Night” in an episode titled “Bourbon Street Bloodbath” airing March 26, 2013 at 10pm EST.


Shortly after the trial finished up on the evening of Friday August 26, 2005 with a guilty verdict, I learned that Hurricane Katrina was expected to impact the greater New Orleans area and the southern gulf coast states in the next 48 hours, thus delaying my return home. I spent the next week in New Orleans eventually ending up at the Morial Convention Center after being ordered out of my hotel room in the French Quarter where I was staying at the bequest of the New Orleans Police Department. I eventually made it safely back home with the assistance of several law enforcement agencies from several states, including my own.


Upon my return to work I was inundated with interview requests about my ordeal in New Orleans from local and national media outlets. I used my experiences as a Hostage Negotiator and Emergency Services Disaster Responder with several hurricane deployments in Florida coupled with what I observed and endured to provide an accurate accounting of events. I also traveled around the state of Florida speaking to various law enforcement and civic groups about my experiences, disaster preparedness and response. This was to begin my own healing process in coping with this disaster, which has helped to define me as the person I am today.

 
Click the above play button or this link to hear a message from retired homicide detective and Katrina Responder Bill Waldron.


In 2006 M. Darryl Woods contacted me. He had learned of my experiences in New Orleans from news articles and a publication in the Florida Sheriff’s Star journal while conducting research for The Contraflow Project (TCP). Darryl wanted to interview me for TCP. I kindly declined Darryl’s request at the time for professional and personal reasons and informed him that I had my own plans to eventually write a book of my memoirs about my own experiences related to this disaster. I wished Darryl the best in his endeavors and told him I looked forward to reading his book when published.


In 2010 I retired from M.C.S.O. I began to get involved with several non-profit groups in my community and did some law enforcement and training consulting. During the summer of 2011 Darryl reached out to me again and inquired if I had written and published my own memoirs. I explained that I had been so caught up in my career and other projects that I hadn’t really gave it further thought. Darryl explained to me how he became involved in the research for TCP and his accomplishments to date. After listening to his progress on TCP I came away with a much different perspective and admiration for what Darryl has so far accomplished and agreed to be interviewed. He is a skilled interviewer and the questions he asked enabled me to recall many details about what I experienced in New Orleans. This lead to more questions and some startling revelations about particular events I witnessed and experienced. Through the course of our many hours of phone conversations and interviews Darryl and I have developed a mutual respect for one another and a strong professional friendship.


Over the next several months we stayed in touch and Darryl kept me updated on his progress with TCP. In 2012, building upon my experiences from Hurricane Katrina and my other professional and personal experiences, along with an interest for improving law enforcement relations with the citizens of my county and public safety, I decided to run for Sheriff. While I was unsuccessful in unseating my former boss and incumbent Sheriff it was a very worthwhile and rewarding experience and I feel that I made a positive impact on my community, shedding light on various problems and issues while providing viable alternatives and solutions. My campaign for sheriff resulted in bringing me to the attention of local and national media for a series of articles investigating the “Stand your ground law” in Florida and my participation in a documentary about the same for the national cable news show, Current TV. All of these experiences have given me a renewed interest and determination in writing my own book.


I have shared a little about my own experiences which will be included in TCP in an effort to lend validation and accreditation to TCP and to Darryl’s abilities as a writer and historian of this disaster. Writing a book can be a very daunting task. Writing a factual book which tells hundreds of different stories while trying to stay on track and keep everything in perspective for your average research team, with sufficient resources and funding is difficult enough, let alone for one person. Darryl has been that person, who in the early days of September 2005 had a vision of chronicling the events of Hurricane Katrina in the greater New Orleans area as told by the survivors, first responders, law enforcement and government officials impacted by this disaster and who improvised, adapted and overcame many obstacles to save lives and restore order to what was has been one of the largest natural disasters in our nation’s recent history.


With his meticulous attention to detail, accuracy, and interviewing skills along with personal resolve and determination, Darryl could have easily been a Homicide Detective, which in my opinion is the best of the best. As a Homicide Detective I would have wanted Darryl on my team to help solve those difficult cases and see things through. As it turns out, I am now on Darryl’s team helping to make the publishing of TCP a reality. I will continue to lend my technical expertise to this project, along with assisting in the investigative research, fact checking and editing of TCP. I am deeply humbled and honored to have my own experiences included in this book and to be a part of this momentous undertaking and achievement.

 


Detective Bill Waldron (Retired)

 
 

Calm Before the Storm

September 6th, 2009 Comments off

Pres. Bush at Indiana Black Expo on 7.14.05

Pres. Bush was riding high after winning a second term. On 11.04.04, he stated “I earned political capital in the campaign, political capital, and I intend to spend it.” Myself, I was living in Southern Nevada working on a new series of educational publications. As Labor Day Weekend 2005 approached, I looked forward to celebrating my birthday and Pres. Bush geared up for his stay the course campaign in Iraq. On 8.30.05, the news started looping hurricane looting footage from N.O. in heavy rotation, which brought about a sense of apathy.

Then came 9.1.05, the day the world first witnessed thousands of environmental refugees agonizing at the Superdome and Morial Convention Center. Many asked how could this happen in America? Others saw resemblances to America’s antebellum past. Either way a tectonic shift in global public opinion occurred, and somebody had to pay. It did not take long before Pres. Bush received a margin call on his “political capital” account, while Dems bought up political default swap policies on the GOP. My analytic mind kept me out of the blame game. I felt it was not that simple. In the meantime I just kept watching…


M. Darryl Woods, Lead Researcher
thecontraflow@yahoo.com





Four Years Ago: Day 6…

September 3rd, 2009 Comments off

MSY west tarmac

It’s Saturday, 9.3.05. I am still tuned in, but feeling numb to this life and death reality show ratings bonanza. The television is now focused on Louis B. Armstrong International Airport, where they appear to be flying evacuees out to Houston or somewhere. I then switch back to NBC and see Campbell Brown interviewing this little boy named Charlie at the Morial Convention Center. He was looking out for his grandma and great aunt I believe. This young man would go on to say something that would haunt me, “we just need some help out here, it’s so pitiful, what we going to do”. After a week of nonstop viewership, listenership and readership, I was overwhelmed and just lost it for a minute. All I could think of was that immortal scene from a Good Times episode when Esther Rolle’s character “Florida Evans” found out James Amos’ character “James Evans” was dead, …damn, daamn, daaamn!”. I decided to step back, so I crossed the street and went inside the Texas Station Hotel Casino in North Las Vegas and attempted to do some unwinding and celebrating, for it was my birthday. But, I could not get what that little boy said to Campbell Brown out of my head. It was then I began to strategize on how I would support the relief effort. I began preparing to shut everything down and head to Galveston and Houston to volunteer. I felt like I was joining the Peace Corps. I just could not sit out here in my home at the corner of Lake Mead Blvd. & Rancho Dr. and continue to watch what I considered at the time to be a genocide. I had to do something. I had to go…


M. Darryl Woods, Literary Responder
thecontraflow@yahoo.com





Four Years Ago: Day 4…

September 1st, 2009 Comments off

Morial Convention Center - 9.1.05

Spent most of last night trying to follow what was happening in New Orleans on the Internet. It was the same old news. It was almost like an information vacuum. Where were the rest of the people? I had finally gone to bed. It was now around 10:00 am PDT on Thursday, 9.1.05. Then it happened. In the rush to feed the appetites of a global audience, including myself, MSNBC turned its photo-journalist Tony Zumbado into a reporter and put him on the air live. He had just come from a tour of the Morial Convention Center, and began to describe to the world what he saw. As he gave a heart wrenching account of what he saw inside the convention center, the news producers were rolling tape of what he and his sound man shot and recorded earlier.

My heart just dropped. I could not believe what I was seeing. It was like I was witnessing a slow agonizing death, live and in living color. I immediately saw a relationship between the “looping looters” and the disaster victims whose ages appeared to range from newborn to centenarians.  The so-called looters were feeding the people, filling in the void left by the “normal” relief agencies. It was like I was looking at Mogadishu file footage. Refugees in America. “Please help us!” “We need food!” “Where’s the Mayor?”


M. Darryl Woods, Literally Responder
thecontraflow@yahoo.com





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