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October 2005

Taking command after Katrina

As Hurricane Katrina closed in on the Gulf Coast, modelers and meteorologists weren't the only people at NCAR in a heightened state of alert. Sylvia Murphy, a Web applications programmer in ACD who is also a battalion commander in the Colorado National Guard, got ready for action.

Sylvia Murphy

Sylvia Murphy.

"As soon as the extent of the damage became known, the National Guard bureau in Washington, D.C., started mobilizing units from around the country," Sylvia says. "Neither the country nor Colorado had ever mobilized on the scale that we did."

As a battalion commander, Sylvia oversees about 500 members of the National Guard, divided among five different companies, as well as a personal staff of 20. She went on duty at the Denver Armory during the first week of September to handle the logistics of mobilizing about 120 soldiers and 36 vehicles from a military police company, 8 public affairs officers, 14 communications specialists with 6 trucks, and 3 members of her personal staff.

"It was like they were going to the moon," she says. "We had to find literally truckloads of water, meals-ready-to-eat, mosquito nets, bug spray, waders, gloves, and personal protective equipment."

Sylvia's job was to coordinate everything necessary to get her group out
the door. "But my role was minimal compared to what they went through down there slogging through the mud," she says.

While Sylvia remained in Denver to oversee logistics, the group traveled to Louisiana in the company of an artillery task force and was put under the command of the Louisiana National Guard. The soldiers were assigned to duty in St. Bernard Parish, where they guarded a refinery and a nursing home, conducted search and rescue for humans and animals, and cleaned up debris.

Sylvia planned to fly down to Louisiana to visit the group, but the soldiers were evacuated in advance of Hurricane Rita on the very day her flight was scheduled. "I would have liked to have been down there," she says. Incidentally, she owns a house near the Louisiana coast that was probably wiped out. "To my knowledge, it's toast."

In all, about 750 guardsmen from Colorado were deployed to Louisiana. Sylvia says that the Guard may rotate soldiers back and forth for some time.

Sylvia was formerly an active-duty member of the military, beginning her career as a naval officer. She's been part of the Colorado National Guard for five years.

She points out that when the National Guard is mobilized for natural disasters or wars, it affects not only the soldiers themselves but also their families and employers. UCAR gives staffers with military reserve and National Guard obligations a leave of absence of 5 to 18 working days per year for training and pays them at their normal rates while on civilian military leave.

"Everyone in ACD was extremely supportive of my leaving after Hurricane Katrina," Sylvia says. "The fact that NCAR is so supportive of these endeavors is very important to us from a National Guard perspective. Without the support of employers, the National Guard would not work."

• by Nicole Gordon

Also in this issue...

NCAR hurricane work reaches new intensity

A visitor from New Orleans

SACNAS visitors

Taking command after Katrina

A day for girl scouts

Vin Lally

A first-class home for conferences

New HR Web system

bluevista doubles supercomputing capacity

New climate exhibit

Weathering the media coverage

Delphi Question

Just One Look


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