Mexico, Holland send troops to Biloxi
BY GEORGE PAWLACZYK
Sep. 9–ONBOARD THE ARM PAPALOAPAN – - The Marines have landed in Biloxi – the Mexican Marines.
And Dutch Marines as well.
For the first time since the 19th Century, Mexican troops landed Friday on U.S. soil, sent from the Mexican Navy ship ARM Papaloapan anchored near the USS Bataan. The Mexican ship’s name means, “River of Butterflies.”
Marines from Mexico, Holland and the U.S. are part of an international Hurricane Katrina cleanup effort building up on ships about 20 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Four Canadian ships are on the way.
“Our President called George Bush and three days later we came here,” said Oscar Martinez Pretelin, a fleet or admiral rank officer aboard the Papaloapan, a 440-foot-long U.S.-built troop landing ship. Vincente Fox is the president of Mexico.
“We are honored to help the United States,” Pretelin told press and television reporters Thursday aboard the Mexican ship.
About 75 Mexican Marines landed Thursday on the beach just east of the Beau Rivage casino to begin cleaning up Biloxi, especially around schools and churches.
Mexican Marine Mario T. Rodriguez said he left a small city in the far south of Mexico to volunteer for the hurricane relief duty. He said he has a 3-month-old daughter with his wife at home.
“I am happy. I am very happy. The U.S. is so rich but even a rich country can need help,” he said.
The Mexican Marines will be aided by Spanish-speaking members of the Bataan’s crew as they work the devastated areas of Biloxi and Gulfport, said Journalism Chief Dave Fitz of the Bataan.
For the first time in the history of the Mexican military, women have been assigned a military mission, said Lt. Leonardo Tun Humbert of the Papaloapan.
Three female physicians and two nurses from the Mexican Navy are aboard the ship waiting to be assigned to hurricane relief work.
Lt. Ruben Pascual, 34, of Veracruz, Mexico, is a member of the Papaloapan’s medical staff who will begin working today in the hurricane devastated areas.
“Our job is to give support to the people. We must support all the people who need medical help. We are proud to be of help,” he said.
Sgt. Carmen Rodriguez Cruz, a 26-year-old nurse from Veracruz, is part of the history-making contingent of female Mexican military.
“We are trained to help and we will help,” Rodriguez said through an interpreter.
The Dutch ship, the Van Amstel, is a heavily armed frigate that was pulled off a drug patrol near Aruba after Katrina struck on Aug. 29.
The Van Amstel’s Lt. Commander Henk Suurveld, the ship’s second in command, said his men will patrol the bay to make sure pleasure craft don’t interfere with military rescue operations. A contingent of about 70 Dutch Marines also landed on the beach in Biloxi Thursday to clean up neighborhoods.
“The devastation is terrible. It is horrible. For us, job satisfaction is helping out in a situation like this,” Suurveld said.
A minor culture shock for members of the Mexican Navy was learning that the commander of the Bataan, Capt. Nora Tyson, was a woman. The Bataan is an 844-foot-long ship equipped with six helicopters that began rescue operations in New Orleans the day after Katrina struck.
The ship was shifted to the Biloxi area on Thursday.
“We were surprised to find a woman commanding a ship,” said Pretelin, the Mexican Navy fleet officer. “We found her very professional, very well mannered.”
“It’s the same hard job for a woman as it is for a man,” said Tyson, with a smile, during an interview in her ship’s headquarters.
“I have a very good crew. They are dedicated,” she said. “And we’ll stay as long as we’re needed.”