On a mission to restore comm links, a soldier locates family members

'We all hugged and shed a few tears,' Army Spc. Corey Kelly recalled after finding his father, left, and grandfather in New Orleans after the hurricane.

Army Lt. Col. Stephen Middleton

NEW ORLEANS'For Army Spc. Corey Kelly, being sent to New Orleans became a dual mission. He came here to help his 56th Signal Battalion set up network communications that ultimately assist troops on the ground, but returning to his hometown also gave him an opportunity to search for his missing father and grandfather.

Kelly, assigned to Fort Gordon, Ga., is a member of a battalion installing secret and nonsecret computer networks and phone lines.

In the days before Hurricane Katrina hit on Aug. 29, Kelly's six sisters and brothers left for Mississippi, Kentucky, Texas and other parts of Louisiana. But they had been trying since then to locate their father and grandfather, praying that both were able to get out of New Orleans.

With telephone communications down, wireless connectivity unstable and travel perilous in the hard-hit areas, Kelly and his siblings' efforts had been fruitless.

'I knew my grandfather wasn't leaving. He's old and has been there for awhile. So I talked to my commander about it, and I guess it went up the chain,' said Kelly, who is working out of New Orleans International Airport.

On Sept. 9, the 56th Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Stephen Middleton, and the 93rd Signal Brigade Commander, Col. David Dodd, invited Kelly to travel with them into downtown New Orleans to search for his missing family members.

On the block where Kelly's cousin lived, they found an uprooted oak tree that had fallen on a house, splitting it in two. There were power lines down everywhere. As they walked to Kelly's church, built by his great-grandfather, and his grandmother's house, they found plenty of broken windows but no sign of his father or grandfather.

Then they drove to Kelly's grandfather's house and found Kelly's uncle standing outside. He was ecstatic to learn that his father and grandfather were both inside and relatively OK.

'We all hugged and shed a few tears,' Kelly recalled. 'The ceiling inside had caved in, and my grandfather had some cuts, but he's OK. I called my sisters, and they are all happy just knowing that they're all right.'

After the reunion, Middleton and Dodd presented Kelly's father with an Army dog tag, which included the American flag with the Bible verse Joshua 1:9 engraved on it: 'I will be strong and courageous. I will not be terrified, or discouraged; for the Lord my God is with me wherever I go.'

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