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La. Guardsmen Depart Iraq to Find Families


La. Guardsmen Depart Iraq to Find Families
By JIM KRANE, Associated Press Writer
8 minutes ago

CAMP VICTORY, Kuwait - A plane carrying 100 Louisiana National Guardsmen left this U.S. base in the desert late Thursday, most returning to damaged homes and families-turned-refugees by Hurricane Katrina.

The troops ended their Iraq duty a little more than a week before they were scheduled to return to the United States on regular rotation.

"We were ecstatic because we were going home," said Sgt. Jackie Gantt, 39, of St. Rose, La., just outside New Orleans.

But after the ravages of the hurricane, New Orleans is no longer home.

"It's like Armageddon hit the city," said Gantt, who was a medic at a military prison for Iraqi insurgents. "We were scared to death. We don't know what our houses are going to be like. We don't know what our situation is. Some guys have nothing."

Still, the troops were happy to be on their way back to Louisiana. They relaxed in a tent that served as a departure lounge, playing cards, singing, bragging about how much beer they plan to drink and cheering after their names were called on a list of departing passengers.

The soldiers are among nearly 3,000 Louisiana Guardsmen of the 256th Brigade Combat Team who are leaving Iraq over the next few weeks. The hardest-hit unit in the Brigade, the 1st Battalion, 141st Field Artillery Regiment, is based in New Orleans. Almost all the soldiers leaving Kuwait on Thursday belong to the New Orleans battalion, and were flying to Alexandria, La., then on to nearby Fort Polk.

Many still have not heard from family members scattered by the disaster and have only word-of-mouth reports on the destruction wrought on their homes by the storm, the flood and the legions of looters. Many say they and their family members have lost jobs. Many are thinking of leaving New Orleans for good.

Spc. Derrick Burmaster, 26, a New Orleans policeman, saw his home in a satellite photo on the Internet, sitting in the midst of the flood waters that filled his neighborhood, New Orleans' Lakeview section.

"I saw that I still have a rooftop, and that my house was partly submerged," Burmaster said, figuring it was a total loss. "If someone wants to loot my house and help me take my stuff out, go ahead."

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