News: Guardsman focuses on Moore community, reclaims his own home
By Airman 1st Class Kasey Phipps, 137th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
MOORE, Okla. - The May 20 tornado that ripped through Newcastle, Oklahoma City and Moore left a wide path of destruction for the families who live in the area as well as the first responders who rendered aide. Much like the May 3, 1999, tornado that left Moore with miles of damage, families are again facing the reality of reclaiming their lives from the rubble, while first responders are tasked with ensuring the safety of impacted families.
Rarely does a man find himself on both sides. In the case of Master Sgt. Brian Hardee, a training officer for the 63rd Civil Support Team, Oklahoma Army National Guard, worries of his own damaged property were set aside as he shifted thoughts to assisting his community first. He now found himself in roles both as a survivor and as a first responder.
When Hardee turned on the afternoon news Monday and saw the tornado forming, he did “the typical Oklahoman thing – went outside and watched the clouds,” he said.
Within seconds, the tornado touched down and was quickly nearing his home, said Hardee. His first reaction was to get his neighbor’s family into his underground shelter, and he hurriedly followed. Even with the shelter’s protection, the shaking, rumbling and violent sounds signaled the tornado’s arrival.
Light entered the room through the severely buckled and damaged garage door as they rose out of the shelter, he said.
“When I came out, I could see daylight, and I knew something wasn’t right,” said Hardee.
A more detailed survey found all of the windows on the backside of the house shattered, water and glass strewn throughout his home, debris spread across his yard, and approximately 20 two-by-fours piercing his roof as though it were a pin cushion.
Hardee quickly began removing the boards and covering the holes left behind to prevent further damage to his home anticipating a call from his first sergeant to report for state active duty.
“I wanted to do as much as I could, as fast I could,” he said. “I knew we’d be getting called.”
Hardee in fact did receive the call and was soon activated alongside other first responders. As he worked in the on-site operations center, and he checked on his wife during breaks, via text message, while working in Yukon, Okla., she was safely out of the tornado’s path but unable to return home due to the destruction making roads nearly impassible.
“The first night, (my wife) knew there was nothing she could do,” said Hardee.
Though he still thought about his house, Hardee continued his work, focusing in on the vital tasks at hand to help the community recover.
“It’s one of those things that you put aside the best you can and you do the job that’s in front of you,” he said.
Later that night, Hardee returned to secure his home after talking on the phone with his wife. The next morning, Hardee’s family arrived and continued the clean-up as he resumed operation in his first-responder capacity.
“My family did a great job cleaning up,” he said. “I will be forever in their debt.”
Hardee continues to clean up the wreckage left behind by the tornado, just as other Oklahomans are putting their homes and lives back together.
“I do consider myself lucky,” he said. “It’s damage and stuff to fix, but nothing like the damage to the north.”
Through the destruction and tragedy that has impacted so many lives and the long road to recovery for Oklahomans, Hardee looks ahead.
“We have to finish the clean-up and rebuild – move on with our lives,” he said.