Havre Daily News
“Louisiana cut my daddy,” 3-year-old Jaclynn Waldron said Monday while playing with her father, Havre police officer Dan Waldron, who recently returned from New Orleans, where he traveled with the Montana Army National Guard.
Waldron brought back with him an alligator tooth given to him by a grateful New Orleans resident, some photos and a small gash on one arm he got while removing debris.
Waldron was voluntarily deployed at the end of September along with members of the Montana Army National Guard and Montana Air National Guard. The group of about 200 Guard members made up Task Force Big Sky, which joined Task Force New Orleans II to help with Hurricane Katrina recovery.
“When we first got there, there was nothing. By the time we left, restaurants were open and convenience stores had reopened,” Waldron said.
The biggest problem when Waldron was there, he said, was sanitation. The city was literally strewn with garbage. What people had cleared out of homes and yards sat where it was placed for a month and rotted. The resulting smell was terrible, Waldron said. When he first arrived, the city continued to flood intermittently and insects were everywhere.
He arrived in New Orleans just before the city was reopened, more than a month after Katrina hit. Though Waldron helped clean the city, his primary role was to provide security, he said.
Waldron was posted first at De La Salle High School, which was the National Guard headquarters in New Orleans, and then at a Catholic seminary. He heard gunfire each night on nearby streets. Sometimes it was close enough for him to see muzzle flashes.
Waldron and the Guard members were told to report gunfire. Fifteen minutes later, New Orleans police, followed by Guard members, arrived at the spot. The delay was frustrating, Waldron said.
“Being from the police department up here, it just drove me nuts. Being a cop up here, I wanted to be a cop there,” Waldron said.
For the most part, people in New Orleans were grateful to have the National Guard there, Waldron said. People would shake the Guard members' hands and even buy them lunch.
Others yelled at Guard members, but those people “were just plain upset,” Waldron said. They were people who had lost family members and lost their homes.
“They weren't mad at us,” he said. “They were mad in general, but we were a form of authority.”
Waldron said he saw people who clearly needed counseling, who had lost family members and their homes, but there weren't enough services for everybody. Guard members could give out food and water and that's all they had to give, he said.
Those in the city who were looting were more fearful of the Guard than of New Orleans police, he said.
“They'd been dealing with the police department down there for years, but they never dealt with the National Guard,” he said. As a result, most of the city's troublemakers cleared out whenever Guard troops were around.
Securing sites in the city was important work, but Waldron said he would have liked to be able to help clean some more. The school he guarded, De La Salle High School, ended up being the first high school to reopen in the city, something Waldron said he was proud of. He and other Guard members who were stationed there not only provided security, but helped clean up and replaced roofing.
Guard members also secured the Hyatt Regency New Orleans, which served as another government headquarters, and other important locations.
At his second security post, a Catholic seminary, Waldron and the Guard members helped keep looters from plundering artifacts.
In between duties, Waldron took some time to look around. He went to Bourbon Street, the center of Mardi Gras, and saw some of what New Orleans was famous for.
“You could see a lot of what New Orleans used to be,” Waldron said. “It was just littered with debris.”
Waldron said he was glad he was able to go, but a 45-day deployment was enough. He is glad to be home with his family.
Waldron will return Wednesday to the Havre Police Department. The department, he said, was very supportive of his decision to go.
“They were fabulous,” Waldron said. “They just said: ‘Stay safe and come on back.'”