New Orleans Area Military Recruiting Mission Recovers

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 10, 2006  - The military's recruiting mission in and around New Orleans is slowly recovering in the aftermath hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, local recruiting officials reported.

The New Orleans Military Entrance Processing Station is located near the city's French Quarter, which escaped major damage from the storms, Army Maj. Elizabeth Cisne, the station's commanding officer, said in a March 8 interview with American Forces Press Service.

Katrina landed along the Gulf shore Aug. 29. The storm's fury breached New Orleans' levee system, flooding 80 percent of the city. Cisne's facility, which processes recruits from all the military branches, including the Coast Guard, experienced some Katrina-caused flood damage, she said.

The processing station was closed just before Katrina arrived and was reopened on Jan. 25, Cisne said.

"During the time that we were closed applicants that normally would have come to New Orleans were going to other MEPS," Cisne said, primarily at the stations in Shreveport, La., and Jackson, Miss.

Today, "more and more of their traffic is coming here," she said, estimating that the station's processing about half of the pre-Katrina daily average of 30 recruits.

"We're starting to see the (amount of applicants processed each day) slowly increasing," Cisne added.

Katrina greatly impacted the Navy's recruiting mission in the New Orleans region, Navy Cmdr. Charles Schug, commanding officer of Naval Recruiting District New Orleans, said recently. The hurricane damaged three of the command's nine New Orleans-area recruiting stations, Schug said. Eight of those stations have since reopened, he said.

In the wake of the storms, Schug's command had set up temporary headquarters in Pensacola, Fla., for about two weeks and then moved to Covington, La., located on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, directly across the shore from New Orleans.

"Half of our folks were in Pensacola, (and) half of our folks were in Covington," Schug said, noting Naval Recruiting Command also gave his command operational control for storm-affected Navy recruiting assets up and down the Gulf Coast.

"So we were working on restoring not only recruiting stations for New Orleans, but (also) recruiting stations in Mississippi and Alabama," Schug said, noting his headquarters has moved back to its original location in New Orleans, on the east bank of the Mississippi River.

Schug said about 1,300 sailors enlisted annually in his area of operations, which includes parts of Arkansas as well as New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana, before the hurricanes hit. However, only 18 of New Orleans' 117 high schools were open in late January, which complicated his mission, he said.

But, he added, progress has been made in recent weeks. "The recruiters are back," Schug said. "They're working trying to get back into the various markets, working with the (high) school officials and some of the local businesses trying to get re-established.

"It's going to be a slow process to get back to where we were," Schug said.

The region around New Orleans, including the Louisiana cities of Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Lake Charles, continues to provide a good recruiting ground for the military, Cisne said.

Schug added a lot of the kids in schools around the region are looking for travel and educational opportunities that the Navy and other services offer.

"There's still a market of potential applicants that would then process through the New Orleans MEPS," Cisne said.