Lending help: AMXS Airmen travel to Texas to provide hurricane relief
By Senior Airman Jazmin Smith, 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 03, 2017
WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. --
Can you imagine the fear of knowing you lie in the path of a storm threatening to turn your world upside down? Of pondering how long you may be without food … water … electricity?
I know I can’t.
Sweeping and powerful rains accompanied by thundering booms. The deafening noise of objects being forced by the wind against homes and other structures. The water slowly, but surely creeping in.
The fear in another’s eyes as they wonder if they will survive.
Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane on Aug. 25, 2017. The violent and catastrophic reach of Harvey produced as much as 61 inches of rainfall when it traveled up the Gulf Coast towards southeast Texas. Overtaken by floods, many of the residents were forced to evacuate – only to return to widespread destruction.
They were left figuring out how to pick up the pieces – literally.
Who would you turn to for help if you found yourself wondering how you would survive the outcome?
Through a non-profit organization called Team Rubicon, seven crew chiefs assigned to the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron departed Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri and traveled to Texas to provide support to the residents affected by the extent of the storm’s wrath.
The following U.S. Air Force Airmen were amongst the members of Team Whiteman who made the journey:
Staff Sgt. Eric Delay
Airman 1st Class Andrew Dutton
Senior Airman Shawn Thomson
Staff Sgt. Ian Linker
Senior Airman Edwin Mendoza
Tech. Sgt. Thomas Reid
Senior Airman Juli Taylor
For some, the call to serve was driven by their own past experience from living near the coast.
“My family was affected in 2005 by Hurricane Rita in southwest Louisiana, so after seeing the devastation caused by [Hurricane] Harvey in the southeast Texas area, I immediately wanted to get down there and help somehow,” said Reid.
At the recommendation of a coworker, Reid contacted the Team Rubicon organization and signed up to go. He extended the opportunity to members in his squadron, and six others took up the offer – using their own leave to make the trip.
The veteran-ran and operated organization flew the team down to their central location in Houston, Texas, where they were divided into the Beaumont and Kashmere Gardens areas.
For the other members of the Team Whiteman group, this was their first experience seeing firsthand what remains after a catastrophe strikes.
“Being there was heartbreaking,” said Taylor. “You see it on the news but you don’t really feel the effects of it until you’re there.”
The call to action for many came from a desire to aid the families and homes affected by natural disasters. The ongoing operation will be a life-long recovery process for the families impacted, said Reid.
“It was eye-opening for myself and I’m sure every person that goes,” said Mendoza. “It’s been over a month since the hurricane hit the city and some people still have not received any help – still living in tents in their backyards because their homes are destroyed.”
The driven Airmen conducted house demolition for 10 hours a day, sometimes longer. As many of the homes were plagued with water and mold damage, volunteers had to tear everything down to the studs.
“Although it was physically draining, nonstop work, it felt like a walk in the park knowing you were expediting the process to give families a place to live,” said Reid.
After removing the sheetrock, paneling, ceilings, cabinets and insulation from the houses, volunteers also cleaned up scattered debris from the areas surrounding the house.
While in the region overcome with hardship, families were left to find strength in the little things.
“There was one sweet old lady who had the most optimistic personality I have ever seen,” said Dutton.
Many of the volunteers were inspired by the humbling experience with how kind and hopeful the locals were.
“After mucking out her house all day, ripping off the dry wall and insulation, then shoveling out her personal belongings that were drowned in the water for over two weeks, she comes to the house and has the biggest smile in the world to see so much work happen,” added Dutton.
The resident shared how she had to escape the water by climbing through a hole in her roof and being evacuated by rescue boats when the water level was up to the ceiling of her house, and yet she was so thankful for everything going on.
During their eight-day trip, the AMXS team had a hand in about 25 houses between the two groups.
“Every second of it was worth it for the looks on the families’ faces,” said Taylor. “They were so appreciative. I would go back in an instant.”