NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - At the Crescent Bar in downtown Hammond, hearts are heavy.
"We're affected greatly because this group of guys moved here after Katrina. They were embraced by this community," says Rickie Brocato.
Brocato is the owner of the Crescent Bar. He says the Army National Guard's 244th Battalion made his place their hangout.
"We had send-offs for them twice when they were deployed to the Middle East. In fact, both times they got special permission to fly low over this building when they were leaving town," says Brocato.
The airmen's mugs line the bar, and a special flag hangs on the wall. Getting the news that four airmen of the 244th were on board the Black Hawk helicopter that crashed off Navarre Beach is devastating.
"We don't know any names at the moment, but I'm shivering because I'm going to know some names and that's hard," says Brocato.
"It is a very experienced unit and one that has received numerous accolades for its service to our nation," says Maj. Gen. Glenn Curtis.
Curtis says the unit is experienced with two combat deployments to Iraq and numerous state of emergency operations.
"They responded to Hurricane Katrina, Rita, the oil spill that we experienced a couple of years ago, the Mississippi River flood and Tropical Storm Isaac," says Major General Curtis.
Both pilots were instructor pilots, and he says the entire crew had several thousand hours of operations flying Black Hawks. Curtis says the airmen are responsible for saving thousands of lives.
He says, "In Isaac, we had about 6,000 citizens in Laplace that were rescued and we had to do nighttime operations during that."
State Police Colonel Mike Edmonson calls them true heroes, who protected us on the front lines right here at home.
"They are public servants. They are first responders that when we called them for duty, they didn't say, wait a minute let me think about this. They were stepping forward," says Edmonson.
At the Crescent Bar, Brocato says the Hammond community will be stepping up for the 244th to offer support.
"We've supported them through everything so far, and I hate to say it, but this may be the greatest challenge," says Brocato.