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Two Blessings

Column by Sen. Trent Lot   Filed 3/3/06   GCN

 On the Mississippi Gulf Coast last week, I took part in two observances recognizing institutions playing a vital role in our Hurricane Katrina recovery effort.  Neither came to Mississippi as a  result of the storm, but they’re both blessings for Mississippians at a critical time and signs that from the shattered and scattered debris, we will rise again.

My first event was the groundbreaking for a NASA Stennis Space Center project that will provide 500 good-paying jobs in Hancock County, Katrina’s “ ground zero.”


NASA’s new “Shared Services Center” (NSSC) will consolidate under one roof a number of the space agency’s activities, including human resources, financial management, information technology and procurement.


Mississippi won this project prior to Hurricane Katrina’s August landfall.  I worked with NASA officials, Governor Barbour and the Mississippi Development Authority to bring it to the growing Stennis Space Center, and it prevailed over five other potential sites.


Clearly, even without the hurricane, this would be a great addition to our local economy.  But opening this center and creating 500 jobs near devastated towns like Bay St. Louis, Waveland, Kiln, Picayune and Pass Christian right now makes the NSSC a steady and much-needed fuel source for the coast’s economic recovery engine.


NSSC was not intended to be a recovery mechanism for the Gulf Coast.  Its primary justification is to save taxpayers’ dollars.  NASA began considering such a center back in 2001, completing a variety of studies which suggested that bringing a number of the agency’s administrative activities together in one place would improve the space agency’s efficiency.


Stennis Space Center, which has played a role in every major space initiative since the early 1960s, certainly made sense as its site from a logistical and financial standpoint.  Before Katrina, Stennis was evolving into an incubator for high-tech, space-related industries to locate on the Stennis campus. With NSSC, that trend will certainly continue.


The second blessing for post-Katrina Mississippi is the U.S. Navy Seabees who have been stationed at Gulfport since 1942.  This is an outfit specializing in building and rebuilding infrastructure throughout the world, paving the way for U.S. military forces.  Now the Seabees’ skills are again being put to work on the home front, paving the way for people to resume a normal life. 


I was pleased to join Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr at the base on February 24 to formally recognize this battalion and a number of individual Seabees for their outstanding service.


The Seabees are accustomed to working in war and disaster zones.  Just as they did after Hurricane Camille in 1969, U.S. Navy Seabees in Katrina’s aftermath immediately began removing debris, distributing ice, water, and supplies, clearing roads and even allowing their base to be used as a center for relief agencies.


Seabees really lived up to their “can do” reputation following the storm, and they continue to serve as our recovery progresses.  Commander Eric Odderstol summed up the Seabees’ Katrina mission by saying, “We told our guys not go get in trouble for doing too little.  Get in trouble for doing too much.”


That’s the kind of spirit from which FEMA and other federal bureaucrats ought to take some cues.  The Seabees alone make a compelling case for getting our military – Army, Navy, Marines, National Guard and the Coast Guard – more active as first responders in all post-disaster recovery efforts, as President Bush and I have suggested.


There’s obviously a lot of work to do in the Katrina recovery.  It will take years.  But I do believe Mississippi’s recovery time will be shortened, thanks to institutions like NASA’s Stennis Space Center and the Navy’s Seabees. When counting blessings in the Katrina recovery, we should always remember them.

Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column. 

Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attn: Press Office) or Email: senatorlott@lott.senate.gov

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