The night after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was pitch black, except for the flashlights.

From his U.S. Coast Guard helicopter, the flashlights and lighters were all Capt. Scott Kitchen could see of the people stranded by the storm who needed rescue.

Katrina was one notable chapter in Air Station North Bend Commander Kitchen's long career as a Coast Guard pilot.

Today, Kitchen is leaving the North Bend command position, handing over the reins to Coast Guard Cpt. Mark Reynolds.

The Change of Command Ceremony was scheduled to begin at 11 this morning.

Kitchen was in command of Air Station New Orleans when Katrina hit in 2005. He organized all Coast Guard helicopter rescue efforts after Katrina.

Katrina

'It kind of gets me choked up," Kitchen said, through short pauses to hold back tears as he stared off into the North Bend Air Station's bay.

'These guys -- trying to get them to eat and sleep. They'd give up their food and water."

Kitchen stopped short.

His role in Katrina was multifaceted.

Equipment was damaged and the Air Station flooded with debris when crews returned to launch a rescue effort the morning after the storm.

The entire station had to be cleaned out and repairs done before rescues could begin. A second class petty officer jury-rigged a device to re-fuel the helicopters, Kitchen said.

Still, the Coast Guard conducted the first air rescue out of New Orleans while winds were still whipping.

Kitchen piloted 10 search-and-rescue flights himself in the aftermath, pulling roughly 40 people off roofs or wherever they hid from the storm. The rescuers tried to keep families together -- knowing children could easily become lost at the refugee sites -- while trying to take the injured or sick first.

Ultimately, Kitchen was responsible for the welfare of the Coast Guard men and women involved in the rescue effort.

'Trying to get them to rest was a pain in the you know what," Kitchen said, nodding, pursing his lips, and staring into the bay again.

No Coast Guard helicopters or crew were lost during the rescues, Kitchen said. The Coast Guard air evacuated 33,544 people out of the city.

Passion

As a Coast Guard pilot, Kitchen found a passion for flying, and has been humbled by the dedication of the crews around him, he said.

But on June 28, 1982, the day Kitchen entered the U.S. Coast Guard Academy to become an officer, he was less impressed.

'My father took me to the Coast Guard Academy," Kitchen said. 'I was kind of a troubled teen. I didn't want to be in the military."

It wasn't long before his tune changed. Kitchen saw the men and women around him, with no other object than to serve their county and their countrymen through rescues.

'I saw their passion," Kitchen said. 'It's really a greater calling to serve your country and your local community."

Kitchen quickly fell in love with the idea of flying and went to flight school after a short stint in Astoria.

He had 25 hours of air time under his belt when the Coast Guard sent him up alone.

'It is definitely a maturing experience," Kitchen said, remembering his first solo flight. 'You hear every noise."

Kitchen said he plans to stay in North Bend with his wife, also a retired Coast Guard pilot, and their 5-year-old twin daughters adopted from China.

They love the community, Kitchen said.

But flying has been Kitchen's life passion, so who knows what the future will bring.

'It's what I tried to explain to my father," Kitchen said. 'Every day I fly, I come to work with a smile."

Reporter Jessie Higgins can be reached at 541-269-1222 ext. 240 or jhiggins@theworldlink.com

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