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U.S. Coast Guard Oral History Program - LCDR Shannon Gilreath

U.S. Coast Guard Oral History Program - LCDR Shannon Gilreath

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Published by M. Darryl Woods
Katrina Archival & Historical Record Team (KART)
Hurricane Katrina, 2005
Interviewee: LCDR Shannon Gilreath, USCG
Commanding Officer, Marine Safety Unit Baton Rouge
Interviewer: Not Mentioned
Date of Interview: 17 October 2005
Place: Sector New Orleans
Katrina Archival & Historical Record Team (KART)
Hurricane Katrina, 2005
Interviewee: LCDR Shannon Gilreath, USCG
Commanding Officer, Marine Safety Unit Baton Rouge
Interviewer: Not Mentioned
Date of Interview: 17 October 2005
Place: Sector New Orleans

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Published by: M. Darryl Woods on Dec 14, 2010
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U.S. Coast Guard Oral History Program
Katrina Archival & Historical Record Team (KART) 
Hurricane Katrina, 2005Interviewee: LCDR Shannon Gilreath, USCG
Commanding Officer, Marine Safety Unit Baton Rouge
Interviewer: Not MentionedDate of Interview: 17 October 2005Place: Sector New OrleansAbstract:
LCDR Gilreath was deployed to Zephyr Field after three of his crews had already been deployedto New Orleans. He served as the Coast Guard representative for the Unified Command. Therewere approximately 600 people operating from Zephyr Field; of these 600, approximately 60 to 65were Coast Guardsmen. When Gilreath arrived, SAR operations had been temporarily suspendeddue to reports of shots being fired at law enforcement officials and rescuers. The UnifiedCommand had two principle players, the Coast Guard and FEMA. According to Gilreath, bySeptember 8, more than 12,000 people had been evacuated from Zephyr Field. He said that hewould not be surprised if that number reached 13,000 because the FEMA report did not cover theCoast Guard numbers for the first several days.For Gilreath, the biggest challenge was logistics. He had never been involved with an operationwhere he had to build everything from scratch. “If you did not bring it with you, you did not have it.” Ittook a week before supplies started to reach them. The other challenge was communications.Communication was extremely difficult. Phone lines were jammed, cell phones were not working,and the satellite phones were undependable. The only complaint that he heard from the CoastGuardsmen was that they wanted to do more.Quote: “They gave 100 % everyday.”
Q:
Okay, could you please state your first name, your last name, and spell your last name out?
LCDR Gilreath:
First name is Shannon, last name is Gilreath, and that’s spelled G-I-L-R-E-A-T-H.
Q:
And your rank in the Coast Guard?
 
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LCDR Gilreath:
I’m a lieutenant commander and I’m the Commanding Officer of Marine SafetyUnit Baton Rouge.
Q:
Okay. Could you briefly give us an overview of your career that led to you being stationed atBaton Rouge?
LCDR Gilreath:
I graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in ’91 and I went to a 270 in Virginia;the
Northland 
. Then I came here to MSO New Orleans in 1993 where I was a marine inspector forfive years. After that I got picked up for law school and stayed here in New Orleans at Tulane. Iwent there for three years. Then I went to District 8 Legal Office for the next four years and then Italked to Captain Paskewich who was CO of MSO New Orleans and some other folks and wasfortunate enough to get picked up for the job of CO of MSO Baton Rouge. So that’s kind of how Igot here.
Q:
Now just prior to Katrina coming ashore what were you doing; what kind of preparations wereyou making at Baton Rouge?
LCDR Gilreath:
Our preparations really started in earnest on that Saturday morning beforeKatrina; they really kind of started Friday night. I happened to be on leave at the time in Florida. MyXO called me and said the storm was turning towards New Orleans and there was going to be ameeting that next morning, so I drove back all night to get back to Baton Rouge for that morningmeeting. I sent my wife and daughter to Georgia with my family so that I wouldn’t have to worryabout them and then we started kind of going through making sure that everything was tied down,inspecting our fleets, going to our facilities giving them the word on what was going on, getting allour vehicles gassed up; fueled up, parked properly, kind of following a hurricane plan at that stageand making sure our people had the stuff they needed to take care of themselves during the storm.
Q:
Okay, and after the storm blew through what did your unit decide to do; what was your tasking?Did you have some people come to New Orleans, some people stay there?
LCDR Gilreath:
What we did originally, as the storm was still kind of going through I got a phonecall from Commander Rawson of the ICP wanting to know about what our waterway status wasand whether or not we could open up the river again, so we were kind of on the back end now ofthe tropical storm force winds at that stage. So I got a team of four people together, we came intothe office and we started basically going from downtown Baton Rouge towards New Orleansrunning the levees as far as we could go to try to get a waterway assessment for him; to find outwhat was going on in that sense. So we did that the first night until nightfall because after that itwas too unsafe to keep going after dark because nobody had power. There were downed treeseverywhere. I was concerned about safety of our people after dark. So we came in and that’s kindof when we started hearing the stuff. We also had two boats, so we checked on our boats to makesure - one of them was CASREPed but one of them was operational - and we wanted to makesure of their status so we could use that. I reported that in. The next morning; about 4 in themorning, I got - communications were very hard; to get a hold . . . because the phone lines in BatonRouge were jammed and cell phone service didn’t work very well - but about 4 that morning I got ahold of Commander Duckworth up at ICP and he said that the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisherieshad taken over or was doing the SAR ops for the state and he said, “Send any SAR assets youhave there.” So I called my boat crew; three people. I called my senior coxswain at the moment;
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BM2 Ryan McKay, and then he called BM1 Gonzales and MST2 Forte and got them together, gotin our 24-foot UTLT and sent them to New Orleans, or sent them first to Baton Rouge to theWildlife and Fisheries headquarters and then from there, with orders, to go to New Orleans to helpdo SAR work for Wildlife and Fisheries. And then if they couldn’t find a place to stay that nightthey’d come back that night. So that’s kind of what we did SAR-wise. The rest of the unit webrought in and reconstituted that morning and we started still doing the waterways managementstuff. We didn’t have any power, our phones didn’t work, any of that kind of stuff. So we just tried togo as far as we could south along the river. We continued where we started the day before and wemade it actually into New Orleans, I think to mile 105 on one side of the river and 115 on the otherside before we couldn’t go any further, kind of just surveying the facilities, the river conditions, theboats that we could see and what was going on and trying to pass the information back to thesector. So that’s kind of what we did on that day.That night we were at the state OEP office and I was trying to check on my boat crew because Ihadn’t heard back from them, because we didn’t have comms with them and they weren’t able tocall back to us apparently. Later when I got back from the state OEP office I was coming by theoffice to check on some things and saw some of my reservists there, and what had happenedapparently was the coxswain had gotten a hold of one my reservists who was also one of mycoxswains and said, “Look, we’re broken down. We made it out of the city but we’re broken downand we need help. We need another tow vehicle. Our vehicle is shot. We need another one” - notshot literally but the transmission was ruined in it – “and we need body armor because we were ina riot.” rioting around us and that kind of stuff. “We need our guns and body armor.” So thatreservist did call us. His name is MST1 James Wood. He had called two other reservists; a PettyOfficer Shelton (Donald “Scotty” Shelton) who’s a PS3 and an MST2 Beau Braswell, all reservists,and they got a team together with all the body armor, all our weapons that we had, with some extrasupplies, and drove into Gramercy at night. They got down there after midnight sometime becausethey didn’t leave our unit until probably before almost midnight. They found our original boat crew,changed vehicles out and then they went to a fire station there near Westwego and slept on thefloor down there. So that’s what they did on the first day.
Q:
Okay.
CDR Gilreath:
Day 2 or 3, that Wednesday; August 31, they got up and they started to go back toWildlife and Fisheries, again, their headquarters at the causeway and I-10, and they can tell youmore about what they did after that. But they went back to the same area they’d operated the daybefore. They couldn’t launch the boat because the water had risen too much to safely launch theboat without destroying the tow vehicle. This was down off St. Claude Avenue down in the lower9th Ward. So when they couldn’t do that they went back to Wildlife and Fisheries. Wildlife andFisheries wanted them to guard some of their vehicles for them because of the rioting and stufflike that and I had given them direct orders to not do that. They could not do any law enforcementat all. They could do SAR but no law enforcement inside the city. So they told them they couldn’t dothat. They were kind of cursed at and so they went and found another job. So they went over to theWest Bank where they had a vehicle casualty to their boat trailer. So they had to park the boat;found a place to park it at the Naval Support Activity Algiers and then they made their way toAlgiers ferry landing. I don’t know how they found that but they found that ferry landing and they sawpeople that were there that were coming off the ferries. I think the Coast Guard Cutter Pamlico waskind of helping run that operation. They helped offload about 4,000 people and after about 1700 orso the National Guard folks and Wildlife and Fisheries folks that were with them providing the
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