Albuquerque adjunct gets first-hand look at Katrina's rage after being deployed to Louisiana area for help

ALBUQUERQUE – With significant numbers of military personnel and National Guardsmen enrolled as students at Wayland Baptist University’s many campuses, deployment for service is not unfamiliar. But for a member of Wayland’s faculty, deployment is more unusual.

Greg Marcantel, who serves as an adjunct instructor at Wayland’s campus in Albuquerque, spent two weeks in the Gulf of Mexico region recently as part of an assistance unit following the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina.

Marcantel serves as a lieutenant with the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department in Albuquerque and is assistant division commander for the criminal investigations division. After the storm left much of Louisiana in disrepair, Marcantel and 42 other officers from the BCSO were deployed to New Orleans in early September.

“My primary role was supervision, logistical management and oversight of the daily missions,” Marcantel said, noting that his background gave him an advantage. “Having been born and raised in south Louisiana, I traveled to New Orleans with a basic environmental and cultural awareness that others did not. I knew the City of New Orleans and its police fairly well.”

With most news channels glued to the storm’s aftermath, Marcantel said the group prepared for massive property damage and flooding and how to deal with the hazardous environment, which encompassed everything from immunizations to proper hygiene and rest. What Marcantel said he did not expect was the violence and damage initiated by humans after the storm.

“The degree of death by violent criminal acts and looting was underestimated and a bit disconcerting,” he said. “I also was taken by the utter lack of coordination and communication of the disaster response resources. There was absolutely no incident command structure.”

Because of this, Marcantel said, the BCSO members were forced to organize themselves.

“Because there was no one telling us what to do, we identified what needed to be done, operated with organization as an independent cell and made a difference,” he said. “Unlike some other agencies who arrived, became frustrated while waiting to be told what to do and left, we sought the necessary resources from rubber boots to airboats and worked long hours each day. As tragic as the lack of an incident command structure was, we did not go there to be ineffective and decided to lead instead of waiting to follow.”

Despite the dangerous circumstances and the debris, the BCSO officers were successful in their mission, according to Marcantel. The group rescued about 250 displaced citizens, arrested about a dozen looters and seized or disabled several looter boats, and fed many animals displaced by the hurricane. No BCSO officers were injured in the process, another aspect for which Marcantel is thankful. The experience definitely left an impression on the New Mexico officer.

“Each day came with a new story as we witnessed humanity on each end of a continuum. Rescuing folks was an everyday occurrence, but toward the end, feeding starving pets who were abandoned had a special meaning,” Marcantel said.

The trip was not without difficulties, of course. Besides worrying about his family back in Albuquerque, his responsibilities at Wayland and the dangerous environment in which he was temporarily placed, Marcantel also had the impending threat of Hurricane Rita on his mind. That storm hit his hometown, wreaking havoc for many family members and friends.

Just shortly after returning to Albuquerque, Marcantel made another visit to Louisiana to take care of family in the wake of Rita. What he found was an area damaged more by powerful winds than the flooding that New Orleans received. With many evacuated thanks to lessons learned from Katrina, Marcantel said “Rita was cheated out of causing much death.”

“What I currently struggle with most is the imposition that both Katrina and Rita have placed upon obviously my Louisiana family but less obviously my New Mexico family as well,” Marcantel said.