Brant Looney is still absorbing it.
Less than a week after returning from Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, having served a 32-day stint as a member of the first National Guard unit deployed to the disaster area, Looney has memories to sort out.
“The smell was the worst. You just wanted to gag,” said Looney, a systems administrator at Santa Monica College. Dead bodies and animals, raw sewage, chemicals from vehicles, and food left to rot in refrigerators all combined to form what was called, with dark humor, “a gumbo.”
Looney was deployed to New Orleans on August. 29, just days after Katrina struck, as part of the National Guard’s 18th Cavalry. His unit of approximately 500 guardsmen and women was the first to be sent to the area, and their job was security.
Duties included security patrols, manning checkpoints, assessments of downed power lines as well as checks on gas and water lines, animal rescues, and damage assessment. Headquartered at a middle school at the edge of the floodwaters with no power or water, the guardsmen worked 16 hours a day, every day, for 32 days.
“Between the humidity and heat, there were a lot of sleepless nights, but we were so busy we didn’t even have time to think about it,” Looney said.
Working in a 50-square-mile area, Looney and his fellow guardsmen patroled in boats, as well as on foot. Among other duties, they helped the New Orleans police officers – stretched thin – to stop looting and crime.
“We were a show of force to stop that activity,” he said.
Looney said he saw a few floating bodies, but federal authorities had ordered that bodies be left where they were, tied to a tree of some stationery object so they could be recovered by the local coroner’s office after the flood waters receded.
Looney, who has worked at SMC’s Academy of Entertainment & Technology for eight years, is a corporal in the National Guard. He’s served about half of his six-year stint, and this was the first time he was called up to active duty.
Named “Classified Employee of the Month” in August by the SMC Management Association before being deployed, Looney lives in Burbank with his wife Azure. He returned to California October 1 and was back at work at SMC on Monday, October. 3.
Toward the end of his term of duty in New Orleans, Looney said, some stores were opening and some residents returning to their homes.”The people were so nice and thankful,” he said. “I’m feeling good about [the term of duty]. I know we made a difference.”