Soldier returns to hometown in wake of Katrina
Story by Pvt. Crystal D. Eldridge
13th COSCOM Public Affairs Office
"From what I've seen on TV," sobbed Janice H. Jones, mother of Capt. Natasha S. Jones, 13th Corps Support Command's Headquarters and Headquarters Company commander, "I don't have a home."
Mother and daughter are from New Orleans - the eastern side, near Six Flags - one of the areas most devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
"It's disheartening. What I once knew as home," the captain said slowly, trying hard to keep her emotions in check. "All I have left is memories."
When word came warning the citizens of the approaching storm, Jones and her mother had no idea there would be such devastation, the captain said.
"We thought it would be like last year," Jones explained.
After spending 10 hours in traffic trying to get to Baton Rouge, the younger Jones said her mother went home and decided to ride last year's storm out. Unlike Katrina, that storm did minimal damage to the area and the Jones family came out virtually untouched.
They had no idea this year would be so different.
A neighbor, who knew the elder Jones lived alone, boarded up windows in the Jones home, then offered to let her join his family when they evacuated. Instead, the mother decided to stay with a friend and ride the storm out.
At Fort Hood, the captain kept up with all the latest news as Katrina made its way along the Gulf Coast. As Katrina drew closer to her home state, notification of a mandatory evacuation flooded the networks and the captain told her mother to join her here.
"I left on the 28th at about 10:30 in the morning. Took about three hours to go three miles once I got out of the city. Even though traffic was in grid lock, people were passing out water. [Other evacuees] asked did I have food, did I need food. Typical New Orleans attitude on the interstate," mother Jones remembered. "I drove at least 25 hours. Hotels were full and I was alone, so I continued driving. I slept in a parking lot for about two hours until my phone rang."
The elder Jones did not have a map, so her daughter gave her directions over the telephone.
"I got to Killeen at about noon on Monday," the mother continued, her voice soft yet thick with emotion. "I thank God that I made it safely and I had a place to go."
Her daughter, whose birthday came as the nation celebrated Labor Day, said she was glad her mother got here in time. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for all her family.
"The majority of my family was able to get out in time, but we've been unable to locate my brother," the captain said, her eyes heavy with unshed tears.
Mother and daughter watch the news and search websites online in an effort to locate their lost loved one.
"Over all, it's hard," the captain sighed, shoulders slumped as if they carried a huge weight. "The life I knew is gone. It's unbelievable how life can be taken away so sudden."
The effect this tragedy has had on both mother and daughter really cannot be expressed with words.
"She asks am I ok, am I ok…on the outer shell, alright, but inside…" Jones shook her head as she tried to put into words the pain she and her mother are going through. "My concern is whether she is ok."
"It's definitely a very emotional time for me. As a family, we've endured a lot. We lost my father this time last year - now this," she continued. "My mother's house is under water. We lost a lot of sentimental [possessions] -photos, heirlooms. Mother only brought one bag with probably two days' clothes. She thought she would be going back soon."
Now it seems the younger Jones will return home first. She is in charge of the HHC element which deployed last week in support of Joint Task Force Katrina.
"My mother is here. I don't want to leave her. [But I'll be] assisting people in the community where I was raised," the captain said.
When she heard of the COSCOM's plan to assist with JTF Katrina, Jones volunteered for the mission.
"I couldn't let the unit go without me," she explained. "A lot of people in the COSCOM are away from how people are affected - right in the middle of the city - where my people are. [And] all the negative media coverage - it's a misrepresentation of New Orleans. They're victims of circumstance. All cities have their good and their bad. [Katrina affected] us as an entire community, not black, white, Hispanic. We're all affected by Katrina. And not just in the immediate area - look at the rising gas prices."
"I'm very grateful of Natasha," her mother said, tears washing over every word. "I'm proud of her to be able to go back home and help with reconstruction. I'm grateful to the unit…She'll be helpful [to the COSCOM] - navigating the area."
"I'm curious to know, other than media coverage - I'd like to get in the Humvee and see my mother's house. You know, seeing it for yourself…" the captain paused, too emotional to continue.
"[Mother] asked, if you get a chance, be sure to take your keys. Get the broach your grandmother gave me. It's a blue and white jeweled broach, on a blazer in the closet," Jones continued shakily. "But I'm afraid by the time I get there, it'll be gone or molded."
"I hoped the house was still standing. [A friend] only saw street signs, not even a rooftop. I wish I could get some photos, Natasha's awards from Iraq - but it's all lost," the displaced New Orleans resident cried. "But we're just trying to keep our spirits up."
"I'd like to visit New Orleans," the elder Jones continued, "if not go home. And all the negative stuff - it's media hype, I believe. And as far as looting - people had to survive. I do not condone stealing electronics, but clothing and food are necessities."
New Orleans is home, Jones went on, and the people there are like family.
"Most people, you can go to their house, no matter how many people are in the family. We share. They share what they have with fellow citizens," Jones went on passionately.
The elder Jones believes that same family attitude and compassion have extended beyond the borders of New Orleans during this time of devastation.
"The people here in Texas are wonderful. Not one person has been negative since I've been here. I appreciate it. Everyone's safe - I attribute that to the people in Texas."
Both mother and daughter are grateful to the captain's neighbors and friends here in Texas. Although reconstruction is beginning in New Orleans, it will be at least three to six months before all the water can be pumped out of their area of town, the captain said. In the meantime, she does not know exactly what her mother will do.
"I asked her if she thought about what she wants to do now. She just doesn't know. It's too early," the captain said.
"I guess I'll try to find employment. I can't go home for at least a year," her mother added. "I have to become self-sufficient again."
The captain hopes her trip home will help bring her and her mother closure and allow them to move on.
"It's more of getting closure - seeing what's left, the remnants."
For now, the two are grateful for the opportunity for one of them to take a very active part in helping their people restore their homes in their community.
"I'd like to say thank you to Texas, Killeen and the U.S. Army," the captain's mother said. "I truly am grateful."
Janice Jones hugs her daughter, Capt. Natasha Jones, as they say goodbye Friday so the captain could support Joint Task Force Katrina. Both are natives of New Orleans and are grateful for the captain's opportunity to help their hometown. Photo by Pvt. Crystal D. Eldridge