News: Soldiers reach out to youths affected by mudslide
By Spc. Booker
122d Public Affairs Operations Center, Washington National Guard
OSO, Wash. - In a community struck by a devastating natural disaster a pickup game of basketball is the talk of the town.
Saturday evening, after a grueling shift of working search and recovery operations at the Oso mudslide site, Army National Guard Sgt. Taylor Wilkerson and his battle buddies challenged a group of kids at the Darrington community center to a game of basketball.
The soldiers working on site called the center their home for the past few days. For the soldiers this was an opportunity to decompress; for the children the game served as a distraction from the tragedies they experienced.
At the conclusion of a closely matched game, the soldiers were completely unaware of the extent that the slide affected the children.
“I just thought they were kids from the community playing ball,” said Wilkerson. “Until later I found out that some of the kids were directly affected by the slide.”
A member of the 790th Chemical Company, who played with the children, became suddenly serious as he shared that after the game the mother of one of the children confided in him that her child had been lost for hours during the chaos of the slide, just one week earlier.
Other children participating in the game lost close relatives and friends in the slide.
Hearing that their interaction with the grieving children gained attention of the local newspaper surprised the soldiers.
Although the soldiers don’t want the thanks and praise they have received, they are glad they finally have an opportunity to help their state, said a member of the 790th.
Finding out that the children we played ball with were so closely affected by the local disaster makes this mission mean so much more, said Wilkerson.
“That’s what this is all about, community outreach,” said Wilkerson.
In their down time the 790th reaches out to the Red Cross and other local volunteers.
The soldiers helped us unload food before the game of basketball, said Matthew Dunnigan, American Red Cross volunteer.
“We have shifts, some of us will be at the community center helping out, some of us will be on site working,” said Wilkerson.