Marine recruiters save 150 lives after Hurricane Katrina
By Staff Sgt. K. R. Murphy
| | September 28, 2005
BATON ROUGE, La. --
Marine Corps hospitality took on a whole new meaning during Hurricane Katrina. For two Marine recruiters in Lafayette, La., the adverse weather did not prevent them from becoming heroes two days after Hurricane Katrina obliterated the Gulf Coast.
In the evening hours of Aug. 30, Staff Sgt. Ryan Richard and Sgt. Kevin Voisin were going about their usual routine of completing enlistment packages for the next day, which happened to be mission day for Recruiting Station New Orleans. While diligently finishing their work for the evening, they turned their television on to watch the effects of the powerful storm in the neighboring cities of New Orleans, Slidell and Hammond. The scenes of people hanging on to trees and standing on top of their roofs screaming for help struck a chord in their hearts. Richard and Voisin kept telling themselves they had to do something to help their fellow Louisiana citizens.
“I just kept thinking that if I were in that situation, I would definitely want someone to help me,” said Voisin. “I knew we had to do something.”
Within the next hour, the two Marines took immediate action. Voisin made a call to his brother who lives more than an hour away requesting to use his boat.
“My brother wasn’t home at the time, so I had to convince my sister-in-law on the idea of letting me use the boat to save lives,” Voision explained. “She was hesitant, but eventually she agreed to let me use it.”
Richard then called his commanding officer, Maj. Derek Wastila, to request that they be allowed to go into New Orleans to rescue people.
Without hesitation Wastila, who had just returned from hostile fighting in Iraq, gave the Marines a thumbs up.
“I was not surprised that they would be compelled to go in and assist their fellow citizens because that is what Marines do – they rise to the occasion,” said Wastila.
Once all of the preparations were in order, Richard and Voisin made the five-hour journey to New Orleans. Minutes after their arrival, the pair was able to begin their mission. They initially traveled to the Crescent City to answer the Red Cross’ call for volunteers with boats to rescue those stranded at hospitals and infirmaries. That mission soon changed as they picked up people along the way who were abandoned in attics, on rooftops, and on cars. One after the other, words of thanks from the victims were shamelessly given to the Marines for saving their lives.
In addition to their boat, 24 other boats were moving through the city rescuing people. More boats could have been used, but the situation had become very hazardous to the rescue personnel. According Voisin, Louisiana state troopers were limiting the amount of volunteers with boats due to reports of shootings by a few local residents caught looting and stealing boats.
It was nearly midnight when the Marines were forced to leave for their own safety.
“I wish I could have saved more people, but by the end of the night, I was completely exhausted and ready to leave,” Richard explained.
After 36 hours of physically lifting people into their boat, Richard and Voisin had gone above and beyond the call of duty to rescue 150 people stranded by the Hurricane’s unforgiving power and the subsequent massive flooding.
The next week, Richard and Voision ached of complete body pain due to the excruciating work they did the week before. They were not complaining though.
“There was a period when many folks were scratching their heads and trying to figure out the best response to the disaster. These Marines cut through the red tape and made it happen to save lives,” Wastila proudly noted.
With 150 lives saved and a stack of smelly shoes and clothes to prove it, the Marines of Recruiting Substation Lafayette, La., will be known as heroes not only by those they saved, but also to the countless number of families who would have been destroyed had the Marines not been there.