Lieut. General Russel Honoré has long legs, and he uses them to full effect. A lean 6 ft. 2 in., Honoré strides across the deck of the U.S. warship Iwo Jima as aides rush to keep up. He strides into a room full of admirals and generals and barks out orders. ("I want you to go and get it done," he says, telling them he has no time for progress reports.) He strides down the streets of New Orleans to correct his soldiers' comportment; he strides down tarmacs to waiting helicopters. He strides away from the Governor of Louisiana as she honors him at a press conference. "Where's my general?" asks a nonplussed Kathleen Blanco. Across the yard, Honoré, a Dutch Masters cigar curled under his forefinger, has a cell phone pressed to his ear. "He's taking care of business," an aide says.
With civilian authority in the Gulf Coast tangled in controversy, politics and bureaucracy, the only government endeavor that appears to be pursuing its mission efficiently is the U.S. military relief effort led by Honoré. Since he arrived in the region on Aug. 31, he has been packing two days into one, shuttling by helicopter along the storm- and flood-ravaged coast. When he sees a problem, he tackles it. He immediately pressured the Federal Government to move gasoline into damaged areas, for example, arguing that if people have gas, they can drive to designated pickup points for food and water so that airlifts can then be focused on those in direst need. Under his direction, the military has delivered 13.6 million meals, handed out 24.2 million liters of water, launched 24 ships and deployed more search-and-rescue helicopters than are now flying in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. "Normally," he says, referring to the military, "we go in and break things. Here we're trying to fix things."
Honoré seems uniquely qualified for the task. Until June 2004, he was the Standing Joint Force Headquarters--Homeland Security commander, responsible for studying a national response plan to a weapons-of-mass-destruction attack as well as for the onslaught of storms like Katrina. The office had conducted a study of what New Orleans should do after a direct hit by a massive hurricane. It concluded, says Honoré, that "there would be a lot of water" but never took into account levees bursting. A plan was in place to evacuate the city, he says as he surveys the detritus in New Orleans' Convention Center, but "don't confuse a plan with execution. A plan is like good intentions. You don't win with good intentions."
Honoré also says help should have come sooner. First responders hesitated, he says, because they were "afraid of big crowds of poor people." It was a case of "people believing the movie." But the city was not out of control, he concluded after delivering food and seeing the streets for himself. The subsequent forays by government forces may have reassured outsiders desperate that help get into the deluged city, but, says Honoré, they "just pissed off people inside the city. Imagine being rescued and having a fellow American point a gun at you. These are Americans. This is not Iraq."