ADA, Okla. — Leading the military’s effort in New Orleans is a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

That someone is Brig. Gen. Myles Deering, commander of the Oklahoma National Guard’s 45th Infantry Brigade and Task Force New Orleans, a combined effort of about 15,000 active duty and National Guard troops working to restore order to the city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Deering, an Ada native, and his Oklahoma contingent of 2,200 soldiers were the first out-of-state soldiers to arrive after the Louisiana city was battered by 140-mph winds and floodwaters. His troops have stepped up evacuation of remaining New Orleans residents even as snipers have shot at workers trying to get into the city to restore essential services. His role has provided a unique perspective.

“We initially flew into the Naval Air Station at New Orleans,” Deering said by cell phone Thursday as he was surveying his command from a military vehicle. “Later, I took a helicopter ride over the city. It’s impossible to comprehend the widespread destruction until you see it with your own eyes. I’ve seen some eerie sights in the New Orleans parish.”

Deering said his command’s mission is to preserve lives, to assist in the evacuation of residents and to secure property and homes.

The general said New Orleans is more secure than it was in days immediately following the hurricane.

“Large numbers of the criminal element decided to leave town when we arrived,” Deering said. “We are working side by side with law enforcement.”

While New Orleans isn’t exactly home for Deering, he said he had met several individuals from his hometown of Ada who are stationed near “Camp Wally Mart,” his command post in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart SuperCenter near the highly publicized New Orleans Convention Center.

“I walked over to where several members of the Chickasaw Nation’s search and rescue team members were,” he said. “I was proud to tell them I was also from Ada.”

The general said his days are long, yet rewarding.

“I’m up at about 6 a.m. and get to bed about midnight,” he said. “In between I take care of routine details, provide guidance, sit in on BUDs (battle updates), meet with my commanders in the field and whatever else needs to be done. It takes up your day, that’s for sure.”

While Deering is focused on his mission, he finds time to remember those closest to him.

“My mom (Geneva Deering) is in the Ada hospital recuperating from a stroke,” he said. “But you know mothers — she’s worrying about me. My sister Jan Hudson and her husband Ken are with her so that is a great comfort.”

Deering graduated from Ada High in 1970. He and wife Pam, who is assistant superintendent of the Mid-Del School District, live in Norman. Their son, David Deering, recently returned from a tour of duty with the Army in Iraq.

Deering said he has not been given an order for mandatory evacuation.

“If that order comes, it will be from the Louisiana adjutant general,” he said. “If and when we receive those orders, we will accomplish the job. We were sent here to do what is necessary.”

Snipers are not the only hazard facing those in the ravaged area. Because of standing water, doctors are being urged to watch for diarrheal illnesses caused by germs such as E. coli bacteria, certain viruses and a type of cholera-like bacteria common along the warm Gulf Coast.

“Of course, all our soldiers have been inoculated for these conditions and have been issued protective gear to prevent the spread of disease,” the general said. “We have not had any soldiers contract illnesses. But it’s always possible. We’ll keep a very close watch. Right now everything is working well and our morale is very high. We realize this is an important job. We want to do as much for these people as we possibly can.”

What can folks in Ada and elsewhere in Oklahoma do to help alleviate the crisis in New Orleans?

“The people in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast who have been devastated by Hurricane Katrina need your prayers,” Deering said. “Many people have lost their lives, others their livelihood. If you want to help, make donations to the Red Cross, Salvation Army or other organizations that are participating in the effort.”

Deering may be a general in charge of a very demanding mission, but his Ada roots run deep.

“How did the Ada Cougars do against Ardmore?” he asked.

When he was told the team had been defeated in its opener, he was philosophical.

“It might seem disheartening since Ada and the Oklahoma Sooners lost their opening games,” Deering said, “but it only takes a short time in New Orleans to realize how insignificant a ball game is compared to the disaster here. Anyway, the Cougars and Sooners will bounce back just like the people of New Orleans will bounce back.”

Deering deflects praise from his meteoric rise up the ranks during his 34-year career in the National Guard.

“Any success that I’ve had has come about because of the outstanding people around me,” he said. “I’ve been smart enough to surround myself with winners who are dedicated to a team effort. I’m honored to command Task Force New Orleans. We have been given everything we need to accomplish our mission and we will.”

Meanwhile, Brig. Gen. Myles Deering — who claims his military career actually began in Ada when he was a youngster playing “Army” with friends — will continue his 18-hour days at Camp Wally Mart as long as he is needed.

“That’s what we’re trained to do,” he said.

Leo Kelley writes for the Ada (Okla.) Evening News.

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