Hammond residents deeply affected by soldiers missing after helicopter crash

HAMMOND, LA (WAFB) - The crew at Ronnie's Boudin and Cracklins restaurant is a good example of what you'll find in Hammond, Louisiana. Walking through the doors, you're greeted with a smile and overwhelmed with the delicious smell of lots of time spent in the kitchen.

However, the smiles were a little harder to come by Wednesday.

"It's just really hard to put into words," said manager Leon Albritton. "It gets you."

Ronnie's sits just a few miles from the Louisiana National Guard base. So, it's no surprise that many of the servicemen and women go there for a meal. Albritton, who has worked with the company for 15 years, said he even knows some orders by heart. In many ways, those orders paired with faces dressed in camo are as familiar to him as his closest friends. When he learned about the training exercise gone wrong that left 11 military members missing, including four Louisiana soldiers from his neighborhood base, he was devastated.

"A lot of them I got to know and then them being servicemen, representing our country, it like double hurt. They are like family," Albritton explained.

He isn't the only Hammond resident who feels a personal loss with the news. Shelly Hammers runs the Omni Storage Center just across the airfield from the base. She said she loves to watch the training exercises from her office window. When soldiers stop by to rent a storage container, she said she always thanks them for their service.

"They do so much for us, whether they are from here or not," said Hammers. "It's a tragedy."

Nearly every resident that spoke about the missing guardsman said the same thing. Though they may not know the soldiers personally, it is a loss to their community.

"I don't think it's hit everyone just yet," said Shawn Gronan, founder of Louisiana Military Advocacy Project. "It's really hard to imagine what's going on in the families. It's hard to accept. These were our friends, our neighbors and brothers and sisters in our backyard."

The group works closely with LANG, helping soldiers transition from move-to-move and back into civilian life when they leave the military. He said showing support through prayer and respect is what everyone here needs in this time of crisis.

"We want to come together and support the families, the unit and all those in the community," Cronan added.

Officials have not yet identified the military personnel on board the crashed helicopter.

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