565th Quartermaster Company help local police

Story by Maj. Jay R. Adams
13th COSCOM Public Affairs Office

New Orleans — Fate. When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, countless heroes rose from the rubble. One was a New Orleans Police Department sergeant with an Eddie Murphy-like quick wit. Another was a power-lifting supply sergeant from 13th Corps Support Command. Fate.

Neither envisioned that a massive hurricane would draw them together as friends and teammates in the struggle to deliver hope to the New Orleans Police Department.

Louisiana natives, their paths had led them in different directions, with different objectives and different destinations-until Katrina. Katrina led them both to a series of abandoned bars and restaurants in the French Quarter. The New Orleans Police Department Quartermaster Activity was born. Fate.

The New Orleans Police Quartermaster Activity rose from necessity. Hundreds of police officers lost everything in the Hurricane and subsequent flooding. When American citizens and businesses stepped forward to help, they created a happy calamity. The truckloads of supplies-food, water, clothes-even tactical police equipment that flowed into the city created an enormous logistical challenge. The truckloads of supply landed squarely on the back of Sgt. Otha Sandifer of the New Orleans Police Department.

"I was just sitting eating chow when one of the captains said we need someone to do a job and you're the guy," said Sandifer.

Sandifer's home is now a lake.

In spite of the devastation to his home and the city he loves, Sandifer is steadfast in his desire to serve. He bounces between the mounds of supplies, with seemingly boundless optimism and energy.

A resident of the New Orleans neighborhood Gentilly, Sandifer never dreamed he would be called upon to manage supplies.

"I'm usually out chasing criminals," said Sandifer "but the captain needed someone and they pulled me."

Sandifer buried himself in the mountains of supply, trying to bring some level of organization to chaos. Even boundless optimism and energy have limits. He was overwhelmed.

Enter Sgt 1st Class Maurice J. Williams and his team from the 565th Quartermaster Company, Special Troops Battalion, 13th Corps Support Command. Fate.

Williams, a native of Donaldsonville, La, is a supply sergeant-but not just any supply sergeant. Williams runs warehouses. He and his team were precisely what Sandifer and the New Orleans Police Department needed to organize the seemingly endless trucks of supply. More important, that organization would make it easier for the officers and other first responders to quickly get the supplies they need.

"Yesterday we had 5 [cargo] vans with miscellaneous equipment," said Williams. "By today, we've already managed to clear it out."

Williams is a man with a vision and commanding presence. His Soldiers move with purpose-and not just because their power lifting sergeant has arms like tree trunks. They respond to his leadership.

Before the 565th arrived, officers arriving to get assistance were forced to sift through stacks and piles and mounds of donations. Critically needed items were often buried. The site was useful, but it had not reached its full potential.

"They [the 565th] are a Godsend. Angels sent from heaven," said Sandifer. "Before they arrived, I was just winging it. They arrived and said 'you just relax. Don't be nervous. We're going to do what we do best.'"

Sandifer doesn't relax but he is no longer nervous. Instead he dances around his "warehouse" joking with Soldiers and fellow officers while giving directions.

"Now that the military is here, I can sit back and take notes," joked Sandifer. He may take notes, but he never sits.

The success of the 565th Soldiers is no surprise to Cpt. Burr H. Miller, the unit commander.

"This mission is tailor made for my company," said Miller. "The police tried but they don't have the skill sets. The street yesterday was packed. You couldn't even drive. My guys have been down here only 2 days and they got this stuff organized."

Morale runs high. "The Soldiers were really excited," said Miller. The Soldiers want to get down in the community and help."

"We're really happy to be here doing this mission, it's good to finally be helping people who need it," said Spc. Floyd L. Underwood, and automated logistics specialist with the 565th.

Williams is especially pleased to help. "It was an honor because I live 45 minutes from here. It hurt me real bad to see how the city was. It will come back someday. It's going to take some time but we're working."

Soldiers and police are both impressed with the teamwork displayed throughout New Orleans.

"It brings out the best in people," said Williams.

"The coordination between the general [Brig. Gen. Michael Terry, 13th COSCOM commander]and the [police] captains was great," said Sandifer.

They asked what we needed, said Sandifer. According to Sandifer, Williams and his team were exactly what they needed.

Eddie P. Compass, New Orleans Superintendent of Police, praised the efforts of the COSCOM Soldiers. "I couldn't be more pleased. They are extremely professional. They have made this mission achievable."

Even the 565th Soldiers met their match trying to warehouse out of bars and restaurants. The Soldiers are now moving the Quartermaster Activity from the French Quarter to an actual warehouse on the Mississippi River.

"We need space," said Miller. We don't have the space to segregate things. Now we'll be able to lay out things in a sensible order."

The 565th efforts, while focused on the New Orleans Police Department and other first responders, will also pay dividends to other New Orleans residents. Much of the donations which do not directly support first responders will be consolidated and shipped to the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

Sandifer expects the Activity to operate for approximately three months. Currently living in a cruise ship on the Mississippi River, Sandifer looks forward to completing his mission and getting back to chasing criminals. For now, he is grateful for Williams and his Soldiers.