To: Faculty, Students and Staff
Subject: Relief Efforts at Texas A&M
Any Aggie of any age who believes the Spirit of Texas A&M is waning should have been at Reed Arena over the past three days.
Under an agreement with local government officials, Texas A&M has made Reed Arena available as a temporary shelter for a little over two hundred or so evacuees from New Orleans through September 9th. Probably like many parents and others, I was deeply concerned about security given what we all had read about violence in New Orleans. I only agreed to the use of Reed after being assured that the evacuees would be vetted, processed and security wanded at a facility elsewhere in Brazos County, wanded again upon arrival at Reed, and that University police and other security would be present at all times at Reed. Students who park at Reed Arena (mostly freshmen) will be parking elsewhere on campus for the week. The evacuees are escorted by non-students wherever they go.
I asked the Commandant of the Corps of Cadets, Lt. General John Van Alstyne, to take charge of this endeavor, in no small part because one of his last responsibilities at the Pentagon was taking care of displaced military families after 9/11. I also wanted a no-nonsense person in charge. He has told me that he is quite comfortable with the security arrangements. Either he or his chief of staff are at Reed 24/7.
Now to the best part. With little advance notice, Aggies sprang into action last Friday. The Corps of Cadets was asked on Friday afternoon to set up several hundred beds on the floor of Reed Arena; to help establish a structure for processing the evacuees; to make arrangements for them to shower and get new clothes; to help develop a process for medical checks; and so on. (Contrary to some rumors, the Corps was never asked or expected to provide security.) Lt. General Van Alstyne asked the Corps Commander, Matt Ockwood, for 300 volunteers to do these tasks. 900 cadets volunteered, and Reed Arena was ready after the cadets worked all night.
The first evacuees began to arrive around midnight Saturday. They had boarded busses in New Orleans that morning, had been driven to Dallas and then finally to College Station - all in one day. Of the more than 200 arrivals, most were families, including some 40 children and a number of elderly. They arrived exhausted, dirty, hungry and many in despair.
They then encountered an Aggie miracle. Clean beds (not cots but surplus beds from a refurbished Corps dorm), showers, hot food, medical treatment, baby supplies for mothers, toys for children and more. But most of all, what they encountered were a couple of hundred compassionate, caring Aggie cadets and other volunteers. The cadets escorted them to their assigned beds, and not only saw to their individual needs, but sat on the side of their beds with them, talked with them - treated them like they were a member of the family. The cadets made them feel welcome and cared about.
Sunday, when I visited Reed, I learned that the women of the Aggie Dance Team had organized and were running a distribution center for pillows, towels, bedding, personal hygiene kits, baby food, diapers and much more; that sorority women were running a child care facility for dozens of children, well supplied with toys, juice, coloring books and cartoon videos; and that plans were under way for other student leaders and students to replace the cadets, some of whom had been at Reed for more than 50 hours. Plans were underway for some of our athletes (and escorts) to take some of the evacuee boys ages 10-16 to the Rec Center to shoot hoops - boys perhaps including one I met who had treaded water under a bridge for 11 hours before being rescued by a helicopter. There is a communications room where the evacuees can use both telephone and internet to try to reach relatives and friends. The Red Cross, United Way, and other community organizations are right there on the Arena floor, and the Salvation Army is serving three meals a day. Escorted trips are being organized throughout the day to laundromats and stores. Area physicians, supplemented by the Aggie Care Team and the Health Science Center are available. Being treated with dignity, respect and compassion, our guests have responded accordingly.
Many other Aggie students are involved in the relief effort on campus, in the local community, and at our Galveston campus. Sunday afternoon, students organized a massive collection effort to gather canned food and clothes as part of the MSC's Open House. Student Government, led by Student Body President Jim Carlson, is planning other relief- associated activities, including helping organize more volunteers to work at Reed Arena the rest of this week.
By agreement with Brazos county officials, Reed Arena is a temporary location for these evacuees, and during this week, we are assured that most, if not all, of the evacuees will move to longer-term housing.
Aggies need to know that the past few days have been a high point in the history of Texas A&M as we have responded to this terrible disaster named Katrina. Seeing the desire to serve, the organizational skill, the willingness to work, the caring and compassion, and more, on the part of the Corps of Cadets, the Dance Team, the sororities and so many other students who have worked incredibly long hours - has been a profoundly moving experience. I do not know a single University official who, having watched our students over the past three days, does not choke up with emotion out of pride in these amazing young people.
And it's not just the students who have been amazing. It is also our staff, including those who today began admitting and helping up to 1,000 students displaced by the Hurricane. Faculty and administrators have volunteered as well, and also put in long hours to ensure that these displaced students can be processed into Texas A&M and their classes with speed and efficiency. I visited the processing center this morning and met many of the parents and students; I know now that they will never forget our generosity and warm welcome to Aggieland.
Aggies often speak of "the other education" here. My original intent had been to keep the evacuees entirely isolated from our students. Once assured of the safety of the students, that would have been the wrong decision. I have no doubt that the Aggie students who are participating in this extraordinary humanitarian endeavor will never forget it -- or what they are learning from it about crisis management and, far more importantly, about their own humanity and character. Nor do I doubt that the evacuees, all of whom are now wearing Texas A&M t- shirts, will always remember how these young people treated them and cared for them.
The hearts of every Aggie should swell with pride in what this University is doing for fellow Americans in trouble, and especially in what our students and staff are doing, to help those devastated by Hurricane Katrina. I thanked a University policeman inside Reed yesterday for what he was doing, and he looked at me with tears in his eyes and replied, "It's an honor to be here, sir."
Robert M. Gates
President, Texas A&M University
September 5, 2005
Katrina relief efforts at Texas A&M University
While the Katrina disaster brought out the worst in some (for example, in the looting and in the political posturing), accounts like the following September 5 memo from Texas A&M University president Robert Gates give hope that the country will rebound quickly.