Jon Bridgers, the founder of the Cajun Navy 2016 that helped flooding victims in Baton Rouge and Houston, is one of President Donald Trump’s invited guests to the 2018 State of the Union Address.
Bridgers founded the Cajun Navy 2016, “as a non-profit rescue and recovery organization to respond to flooding in south Louisiana. In 2017, the Cajun Navy set out to provide aid to those in Texas affected by Hurricane Harvey,” a White House statement announcing Bridger’s SOTU attendance states.
“He and the Cajun Navy 2016 have helped thousands of people across the South, and to this day, they are helping collect resources and donations for those who lost their homes in the storms,” according to The White House.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Bridgers Modeled the ‘Cajun Navy 2016’ After Efforts to Help Hurricane Katrina Victims
On Facebook, Bridgers identifies himself as “Founder & CEO at Cajun Navy 2016” and says he lives in, and is from, Watson, Louisiana. The Advocate describes the Cajun Navy as “a loosely organized flotilla of volunteer boaters who poured into New Orleans and other badly hit areas to rescue stranded residents,” starting, some would argue, with Hurricane Katrina.
According to the New Yorker, Bridgers built on the Katrina experience when he created the Cajun Navy 2016 after flooding in Baton Rouge. “Bridgers started a Facebook group called Cajun Navy 2016, after the famed all-volunteer flotilla of Louisiana boatmen and women who were credited with rescuing more than ten thousand people during Katrina,” wrote the New Yorker. “Over the next several days, Bridgers’s volunteers used jon boats, motorboats, bass boats, and even canoes to rescue people from flooded homes and pluck them off rooftops.”
That was 2016, in Baton Rouge, and a year later the Cajun Navy would find itself facing an even greater need when the monstrous storm Hurricane Harvey swamped areas of Texas. The Cajun Navy’s volunteers took to boats and other vehicles to help rescue people stranded and imperiled by Hurricane Harvey, in the most recent disaster. Some of them are Louisiana fishermen adept at navigating flood waters, according to the Advocate, which says that Bridges helped organize a team that volunteered in the Houston area during Hurricane Harvey. He said the work “changed his life,” The Advocate reported.
2. Bridgers, a Realtor, Has Said That Volunteering With the Cajun Navy Put ‘Something On My Heart’
Bridgers told The Advocate that his volunteerism with the Cajun Navy was a life-changing experience for him, not just the people he’s helped rescue. In particular, helping people during the August 2016 Baton Rouge floods moved him.
“The Lord put something on my heart to make me feel different when that happened,” Bridgers said of the rescue efforts, according to The Advocate. “It’s a feeling like I’ve never really had before.” His Facebook group of volunteers grew to 50,000 people, according to The New Yorker. Texans had helped Louisiana during Katrina and the Baton Rouge flooding, and the Cajun Navy wanted to pay those efforts back by helping out during Hurricane Harvey, The New Yorker reported.
When he’s not rescuing people, Bridgers works as a realtor, according to his Facebook page.
3. Bridgers Has Described Organizing the Group of Sportsmen
A profile in the New Yorker described Bridgers’ efforts during the Baton Rouge floods, a precursor to the critical role the Cajun Navy would play during Hurricane Harvey. The magazine described how Bridgers was moved to help those in Baton Rouge because he lives in a town of 900 people nearby.
He realized that government help was not enough, says the New Yorker, quoting him as saying, “We’re all sportsmen around here. Pretty much every other person has a boat. So we got going.” The Livingston Parish News reports that Bridges once said in 2017, “I was sitting in my house around 1 a.m. on Aug. 13 (2016), and I knew I wanted to help people. I needed to help out the people who were crying out for a hand on social media.”
Cajun Navy 2016 is a non-profit organization.
4. The Cajun Navy Has Been Praised an Example of the Strength of the American Citizenry
U.S. Sen. John Neely Kennedy, of Louisiana, applauded Trump’s invitation of Bridgers to the State of the Union address.
“The results seen by the Cajun Navy 2016’s efforts to help those in need are an example of what can be accomplished when you don’t have stacks of governmental red tape to cut through. What the Navy was able to get done in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey is simply incredible,” Kennedy said in a statement. “I cannot think of a better way to honor this group than by inviting its founder, Jon Bridgers, to the State of the Union.”
The Cajun Navy’s ranks are imprecise but likely include several dozen captains and volunteers, possibly involving about 100 people, according to The Huffington Post.
5. The Cajun Navy 2016 Has Saved Thousands of People’s Lives
During Harvey, government rescue operations were swamped by the sheer scope of the disaster. The Cajun Navy 2016 is credited with saving thousands of people, according to ABC13.
The Cajun Navy has a website where people can donate or volunteer to help its rescue efforts. The Cajun Navy has expanded and its ranks include Cajuns, but also people from Mississippi and other areas and groups from Louisiana.