NEW YORK -- Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit were eagerly awaiting the arrival of Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, to join them on the USS Wasp, Nov. 5, 2011.
“After the commandant’s arrival, he left to talk to the (Port Authority of New York and New Jersey), and to see first hand the destruction of Hurricane Sandy,” said Sgt. Maj. Todd M. Parisi, hometown native of Kersey, Penn., and sergeant major of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. “This isn’t as simple as ‘hey, there is a need and we have people here who want to help so lets put them on the ground,’ this is a larger, more complex type of situation of relationships and dynamics. Things have to be done right. The Marine Corps is geared and poised ready to execute immediately, but not everything happens that fast. However, today was a great success.”
The commandant’s arrival, along with Sgt. Maj. Michael P. Barrett, sergeant major of the Marine Corps, praised the Marines and sailors for their continued efforts with humanitarian relief around the tri-state area in response to the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy.
“Sgt. Maj. Barrett was speaking of the lineage, and redefining the importance that people never forget how important this place is, where we are at, and the legacy we have; the awesome and magnificent things this unit has done and for being well known across the face of the Corps,” said Parisi.
The hasty mobilization of the Marines and their awe-inspiring presence gave people of the tri-state area hope that may not have seemed tangible a few days prior.
“Being ready and poised at a moment’s notice was really his message,” said Parisi. “(The 26th MEU) rapidly processed and pulled together in virtually a 24 hour notice, and got up here, in essence, ahead of everybody. We caught everybody off guard – the Marines have landed. Like the newspapers have said, the situation is well in hand.”
Many of the Marines on board have been given the chance to fly to shore to see the areas devastated by the hurricane and were afforded the opportunity to help in any way possible.
“Today I was assisting the New York Sanitation Department by clearing Staten Island’s, Colonial Street of garbage and helping any citizens who have had any trouble getting debris from their house to their curb,” Gunnery Sgt. Christopher P. Pilats, a Syracuse, N.Y., native, and radio chief for Battalion Landing Team 3/2, currently reinforcing the 26th MEU.
The areas around the Staten Island area have flooded, lost power, access to gasoline and in some cases have limited supplies of water and food.
“My experience was humbling. In general, New Yorkers are very resilient, self reliant, independent and strong minded people,” said Pilats. “It kind of sets you back and makes you look at what you have and all your comforts when you see the New Yorkers in turmoil -you have families, kids, and elders, who cant live in their house and have lost all their belongings.”
Pilats said the Marines have been looking for any ways possible to help and they are doing it with a proud sense of satisfaction for helping fellow Americans in times of need.
“The Marines want to keep rolling,” said Pilats. “I could tell they were a little upset that we didn’t get there earlier today so we could have more time to help. They wanted to do more; they actually wanted to stay later when the day ended.”
The help by the Marines was well received by the local citizens, many expressing their deep sense of pride and appreciation for the work and aid the Marines were providing.
“The locals were ecstatic and excited to see us,” said Pilats. “The sanitation department and police department were very accepting with open arms when they saw us. Their philosophy was simple, do any little bit you can to help. It wasn’t like the civilians put their hands off either, they were right next to us helping, and you could tell they were so happy to be there with us the whole time.”
The 26th MEU operates continuously across the globe, providing the president and unified combatant commanders with a forward-deployed, sea-based quick reaction force. The MEU is a Marine Air-Ground Task Force capable of conducting amphibious operations, crisis response, and limited contingency operations. They are slated to deploy in 2013.