Local News

Superdome 'Nastiest Thing Ever' To Bragg Troops Who Guard It

Posted September 11, 2005 1:50 a.m. EDT

— Armed and alert, soldiers from Fort Bragg stand guard outside New Orleans' Superdome, making sure no one from the public goes inside.

Why anyone would want to, they can't imagine.

"It's the nastiest thing ever," said Pfc. Michael Martinez.

The 19-year-old soldier stood outside the building Thursday on a balcony overlooking its flooded parking lot.

Inside, where refugees rode out Hurricane Katrina -- then were trapped for days by floodwater before they were finally bused to safety -- the foul smell of rotting trash and human waste filled the dank air.

Beams of light shone through the damaged roof onto the dark, filthy football field on the arena's floor.

Martinez and other members of the 82nd Airborne Division began standing guard at the building this week, shooing away unauthorized people who come too close.

"We're here to provide a presence," Capt. John Carson of A Company, 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, told The Fayetteville Observer.

Government officials do not want anyone to enter the building unless it's necessary because of the danger of infection inside. The soldiers themselves are no longer allowed to patrol inside the dome, and keep watch instead outside the trash-covered plaza.

"As you can see, it is pretty devastating," Carson said.

Below their perch on the building's balcony, they can see piles of debris _ stretchers stacked on top of one another, empty food containers and water bottles. Dogs left behind when their owners evacuated scavenge through the trash to survive.

A black terrier still wearing its red collar follows the men as they patrol. They have been giving it water.

"It's like a war zone," Pfc. Shawn Seward, 26, said. "It's just like out of a movie. You'd never expect it in the U.S."

This is the first deployment for Seward and Martinez. Their first view inside the Superdome was memorable -- and not in a good way -- as they tried to visualize what it was like for the people obliged to stay there.

Seward said he was shocked.

"I said some choice words that I'm not going to repeat," he said.

Now, though the building is empty, they are glad to be able to help by guarding it -- even it if means standing in trash.

"You kind of get used to it," Seward said. "You don't smell it any more after a while."