SIKESTON - Military vehicles rolled into Sikeston just after 4 p.m. Tuesday as the 1140th Engineer Battalion returned home from Louisiana, where roughly 500 troops spent the last month helping clear streets in cities ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita.
The 1140th and several units attached from across the state spent 18 days in New Orleans and later, after Hurricane Rita hit, near Lake Charles, La. After a 1,600-mile round-trip convoy, the 1140th cleared 2,500 blocks in New Orleans and cleared 760 miles of roadway and removed 182 loads of debris from the Lake Charles area, which is just west of Baton Rouge.
"I sure am proud of these guys," said Lt. Col. Robert Jones, the battalion commander. "We were told we had some studs, and we do. People couldn't just believe how fast we were clearing the roads."
According to Jones, the 1140th also cleared debris for 19 schools, two hospitals and four public facilities, including libraries, museums and sheriff offices. They also delivered 210 loads of fill to help raise the levee in New Orleans, Jones said.
The soldiers said they won't soon forget this mission.
"It's hard to put into words," said Staff Sgt. Phillip Patterson, a medic from Scott City. "There were just miles and miles of total devastation. Hopefully it never again happens in this lifetime."
After spending 18 days in New Orleans, the 1140th was dispatched to Lake Charles to respond to Hurricane Rita.
"It was scary," Patterson said. "The storm was coming right toward us. We drove through it. We got there five hours after Rita hit."
His wife, Roberta, is just glad he's home.
"It's been tough," she said. "But I know it was for a good cause. Those people needed it, and he wanted to go."
For the next several days, the soldiers of the 1140th will be cleaning equipment and getting the unit back in order. But Tuesday night they were looking forward to hot baths, warm meals and spending time with their family.