MIGHTY HISTORY

Why Mexico's military deployed in the United States for the first time in 150 years

In September 2005, Mexican Marines arrived under the Mexican flag to Harrison County, Miss. It was the first time in 159 years that Mexican troops operationally deployed inside the United States. There, they met U.S. Marines and U.S. Navy sailors. But they weren't there to do battle; they were there to clear the debris.

Harrison County was hit by one of the most intense hurricanes ever to hit the United States. Harrison County was devastated by the strongest winds of the whole storm.


Hurricane Katrina making landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast, August 2005.

(NASA)

Hurricane Katrina was the fourth most intense storm ever to hit the United States. The storm killed more than 1,800 people, making it the deadliest to hit the United States since 1928. It was also the costliest hurricane in terms of physical damage done to the areas affected by the hurricane. In all, the total price tag for Katrina's damage came to a whopping $125 billion – but just throwing money at a problem doesn't fix it.

Damage wrought on communities by storms like Katrina require an all-hands approach to recovery, especially in the immediate aftermath. Charitable organizations like the American Red Cross, Oxfam, and Habitat for Humanity responded. So did many members of the international community, even those considered to be at odds with American foreign policy at the time. Those who offered assistance included traditional allies Germany, the UK, and Canada. But even those who did not have the considerable resources of the West, like Mexico. That's how Mexican Marines ended up clearing timber from schools around Mississippi.

Sailors from the Dutch and Mexican navies distribute water and Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs) to residents of D'Iberville, Miss.

(FEMA photo by Mark Wolfe)

In the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, then-President of Mexico Vicente Fox sent a message to the United States, saying:

"In the name of the people and of the government of Mexico, I assure you of my deepest and most sincere condolences for the devastating effects caused by Hurricane Katrina."

Mexico's Red Cross sent Rescue Experts to New Orleans while the Mexican Navy deployed off the American Gulf Coast with helicopters, ATVs, amphibious ships, tankers, medical personnel, and tons of food aid. The Mexican Air Force later flew 200 more tons of food in as a convoy of trucks from Mexico shipped hundreds of tons more. It was the first time since the Mexican-American War (which ended in 1848) that Mexico's troops were inside the United States, and they were here to help.

The Mexicans also helped clear debris and distribute supplies to Harrison County, hit especially hard by Katrina's intense winds. Gulfport, Miss. took the brunt of the damage, but the surrounding areas were devastated as well. The following month, having finished cleaning up and distributing supplies, the mission ended, and Mexico went home.