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Coast Guard couple credits faith, prayer for successful rescues

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Commander Scott Kitchen describes the United States Coast Guard as one big family, and after Hurricane Katrina, that family participated in what he calls “the biggest rescue effort since Moses.”

The helicopter crews flying under his command rescued 6,471 people after Hurricane Katrina and 67 people after Hurricane Rita. The total number of all rescues, both air and water, for the Coast Guard was more than 22,000.

But the Coast Guard is Kitchen’s family in more ways than one. Jennifer Lay Kitchen, Scott’s wife, is also a commander for the Coast Guard. They met and married while stationed in Miami. The two are members of Calvary Baptist Church in New Orleans.

Jennifer, who serves as the 8th Coast Guard District Planner, evacuated during Hurricane Katrina to Baton Rouge while Scott led his helicopter teams out of harm’s way.

After the storm passed, Jennifer wondered what she should do next, and her answer was not far away. The Guard needed someone at the Emergency Operations Center in Baton Rouge with air operations experience, so she began taking calls and determining the need for boats and helicopters during the rescue effort.

Throughout her 14- to 16-hour days, she received calls ranging from people stranded on rooftops to reports of gunfire.

“If people weren’t praying for us, we couldn’t have held it together,” she said.

Jennifer, who is also a pilot, understood God’s plan for her. In the last few years, her job has taken her out of the pilot’s seat to help coordinate the efforts of the helicopter crews.

“No matter how I fret over something, God’s got a plan,” she said.

One of the things she would have fretted over in the past would have been not flying the rescue missions.

“To not be flying would have been impossible without my present relationship with God. I would have been eaten up with [worry],” she said.

God revealed His providential hand to Scott, too, throughout the ordeal. He said God had put particular Coast Guard teams there for a purpose, and the low death toll in the region was amazing.

“Rescuing 22,000 people was not a coincidence,” he said.

Scott’s teammates rescued a 71-year-old man stranded at his home for 14 days, surviving on one gallon of water. While doing a search, the team heard a faint tapping, and upon closer inspection, they found the man. Scott praised God for such rescues because “He gave these people the will to live. They kept their faith.”

In addition to rescuing people through the Coast Guard, Scott and Jennifer use recovery skills of a different kind at Calvary Baptist. The couple helps people with hurts, habits and hang-ups through the church’s Celebrate Recovery ministry, and they teach a college Sunday School class.

Sixteen of their Coast Guard family members lost everything to the storm’s flooding and destructive winds, but the crew members are still serving in the affected area.

Even with the overwhelming efforts of the crews, Scott said, “I wish there was more we could have done.”

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  • Keith Manuel