County Comment: County Employee Returns From Katrina Deployment, Featured on Cap Website
County Employee Returns From Katrina Deployment, Featured on Cap Website
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer
Washington County Communications Maintenance Manager Pete Loewenheim, a Major in the Maryland Wing of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) has returned from a voluntary 8-day deployment in the area devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
Loewenheim's mission, to fly military personnel and needed supplies to New Orleans from the primary staging area in Hattiesburg Mississippi also made front-page news on the Maryland CAP website www.mdcap.org.
Daily flights into New Orleans' Louis Armstrong International Airport and Naval Air Station gave Loewenheim the "big picture" of the destruction in the Gulf Coast region.
"What really got to me was seeing an entire city completely abandoned. I can't put into words how devastated the region is," Loewenheim said.
Flying an eight-seat GA-8 Airvan transport plane, Loewenheim ferried personnel from all branches of military service into New Orleans, some of whom were deployed to the U.S.S. Iwo Jima, docked on the city's riverfront along with cruise ships and hospital ships. One of only two pilots in the Maryland CAP wing qualified to fly the GA-8, Loewenheim also trained pilots from the Texas CAP wing on operation of the aircraft.
"We were hauling people, things, anything they wanted, but what the military were hungry for was news," Loewenheim said. Part of the cargo he hauled were copies of the newspaper USA Today, to be delivered to military and emergency personnel cut off from normal news distribution.
Coordination of radio communications played a major role in problems faced by first responders to the disaster. Lack of "interoperability", the ability of radio systems to communicate with one another, complicated rescue efforts. Loewenheim is playing a key role in elimination of those problems in Washington County.
As head of the County's Communications Maintenance office, he is heavily involved in the public safety and government communication systems, repairing, installing and maintaining millions in radio equipment, towers and infrastructure for County, municipal and state agencies. Loewenheim is part of a team planning and designing the massive, 21-million-dollar upgrade of the County's radio communications system, and will oversee its installation. The project will enable all local fire, rescue, public safety, and local governments to communicate through a single channel.
As for Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts, "I'd like to think I made a dent, but it was probably only a dimple as bad as things were down there. Still, it was an opportunity for CAP to make a difference and I was glad to be a part of that," Loewenheim said.
In Washington County, the Civil Air Patrol is one of a number of non-profit agencies supported by the Board of County Commissioners. An auxiliary arm of the U.S. Air Force, CAP performs 95 percent of all continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions.. There are approximately 1,300 members of CAP in Maryland. CAP also performs homeland security, and counterdrug missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. The members play a leading role in aerospace education and serve as mentors to the almost 25,000 young people currently participating in CAP cadet programs. CAP has been performing "missions for America" for more than 60 years.