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    JRTC, Fort Polk sends best to help those going through worst

    Boarding the bus

    Photo By Patricia Dubiel | Fort Polk Soldiers help an elderly lady board the bus as she had trouble raising her...... read more read more



    Story by Patricia Dubiel 

    Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital

    “In case you haven’t noticed, the Army is here,” he began. “They are here to help rescue some folks over in Texas. I want to ask everyone two things: First, let’s give these guys a round of applause.” The diners all clapped and cheered for the group, smiling and nodding their heads in approval. “And secondly,” the man said, “let’s offer up a prayer for these guys and the people they are going to help today.”
    Everyone bowed their heads. The man spoke his prayer aloud — short and to the point — followed by a unanimous amen. The Soldiers graciously thanked him for his kind words, finished their meals, then headed back to the staging area to start their mission.
    Capt. Scott A. Corrigan, Joint Readiness Training Center rotational planner, was the convoy commander for this operation. Accountability was his primary concern, ensuring everyone stayed together and followed the correct routes in and out of the affected area, but it was the purpose of the mission that he emphasized most. “It’s important for everyone (on our team) to understand what we are doing. We are here to help folks in need, and it can be a tragic, difficult time for many,” said Corrigan. “We want to be empathetic toward that and demonstrate our professionalism as Soldiers. We are here to help in any way we possibly can, and that’s what (the JRTC and Fort Polk) sent us here to do.”
    Disaster relief and humanitarian missions are part of what the Army does, be it overseas or at home. “The reason why many of us joined the military is not only to help people all over the world, but also American citizens,” said Corrigan. “When something like this happens right at our front doorstep, we absolutely want to get down here and help.”
    The buses began making their way down I-10 west alongside innumerable motorists, but there was a striking similarity about all those vehicles heading for Texas. About every other car or truck was towing a boat — flat bottom jon boats, airboats and bass boats. Many of the boats were filled with cases of bottled water. Pick up truck beds were filled with generators and gas cans, paper towels and cleaning supplies, chainsaws and toolboxes. Other trucks carried canned goods, diapers and additional supplies. Still other trucks hauled portable restrooms and kitchens, or trailers emblazoned with the Salvation Army logo or the name of a church. All parties headed in one direction — Texas. The opposite lane of traffic was minimal.
    As the highway merged into a single lane, evidence of Harvey’s ferocity became visible. Large highway signs were twisted and crumpled, as if giant hands had squeezed and bent them over. As the buses neared the state line, the floodwaters became more visible. Highway-side hotels looked like pretty buildings in the middle of lakes, their parking lots dotted with half-submerged vehicles. Automobile, tractor, bulldozer and tractor-trailer dealerships had brand new inventory in their lots, and every vehicle was partially under water.
    As the buses crossed the state line, the welcome center’s huge five-pointed star greeted them, its bottom right point obscured by water, as if the Lone Star state was dipping its foot into a sad lake. All six flagpoles stood bereft of their standards.
    Vehicles from the Department of Homeland Security waited to guide the buses the rest of the way to Vidor. Much of the highway was impassible, so traffic was limited to rescue and recovery vehicles, one lane in, one lane out. In some places, the floodwaters were still lapping the road.
    As the group of Soldiers and bus drivers passed neighborhoods, the devastation worsened. Fine, stately homes with expensive cars were just as saturated as the more modest dwellings, apartment complexes and trailer homes. Abandoned vehicles were everywhere, some with doors and trunks still open, all underwater. One had a John Deere tractor positioned by it, as if someone tried to pull the car clear, but it appeared both drivers had to abandon their conveyances during the onslaught of so much water.
    At last the buses arrived at Vidor. This was not a shelter — not a school gym or a church hall. This was a strip mall, the highest ground in town, and one of the few with a dry parking lot. There was some electricity, as the local grocery store was letting people enter a few at a time. Portable johns were set up with hand washing stations nearby, and someone was cooking a lot of meat. But the delicious smell belied the visual impact of this scene. So many people were huddled under what bits of shade they could find, clinging to beloved pets, barefooted children and a bag or box of precious keepsakes from a flooded home. Nurses were checking on the elderly, some with oxygen tanks and walkers, others in wheelchairs, all of them hot and uncomfortable.
    But through this bleak scene, there were tangible signs pointing to the best of humanity. Civilians in sparkling monster trucks and large military surplus vehicles worked with members of the Army and Air Force, active-duty and National Guard, to bring relief and rescue to the people of Vidor. Boat owners met to discuss what streets needed to be checked, and helicopters flew overhead to continue the search for people that needed help.
    As one of the Fort Polk buses was being loaded with evacuees, not a harsh word was spoken. The people were grateful for the help, and the Soldiers were bending over backwards to do all they could to make them feel comfortable and safe. Bus driver Codie Perkins said the experience was a reality check for her. “This could happen to any one of us, and at the end of the day, I would want someone to be there and help me if I were in the position these people are in,” she said. “I’m really proud to be part of a company that supports this mission. I saw a little boy at the coliseum and his mother, and you could just tell the relief they felt from being moved out of a horrible situation into one of more peace.”
    The evacuees were glad for the Soldiers’ help, and once they got to Lake Charles and into an air-conditioned climate, they spoke of their gratitude.
    “I want to tell all these Soldiers thank you, and that we appreciate them very much,” said Vidor resident Karen Spoonmore, who was on the bus bound for Lake Charles.
    Another Vidor resident, Keith Watkins, said “The Soldiers did great! We got to ride in the big Army trucks, and a boat, and the kids liked that. (Our home) was actually under water and the Army rescued us. But they had a spot for all of us and our dog, and they were great.”
    One of the Soldiers working to help people get on the bus was Staff Sgt. Darnesia Wilkerson, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 5th Aviation Battalion. She said she would come right back the next day if it were needed and do it all again. “It made me feel so good to help people that were not able to help themselves,” she said. “What stood out to me was seeing these people in need, and realizing that I am blessed. I get to go home, but some of these people don’t have that anymore, yet you still see them smile at you, and you see their gratitude. You didn’t hear anyone complaining, and I’m overwhelmed by that. It’s a great feeling.”
    As the sun began to set, the mission came to an end and everyone boarded buses to return to Fort Polk. Despite the heat, humidity and the harrowing journey, this group of Soldiers and civilian bus drivers were glad they answered the call for help from their neighbors to the south. Their spirits were high though their bodies were weary. They embodied the meaning of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. They were a true representation of what it means to be a Soldier in the United States Army.



    Date Taken: 09.08.2017
    Date Posted: 12.21.2017 11:59
    Story ID: 259850
    Location: FORT POLK, US 
    Hometown: LAKE CHARLES, LA, US
    Hometown: VIDOR, TX, US

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