News: Sandy relief efforts bolstered by Marine charity
Story by Cpl. Paul Peterson
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - Their homes here remained largely unaffected by the hurricane as it glanced the North Carolina coast, but the Marines of 2nd Maintenance Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group knew the residents to the north needed assistance.
Master Sgt. Perry A. Sikes, a Savannah, Ga., native and calibrations chief with the battalion’s Electronics Maintenance Company, jumped on the chance to help out and prepared to head toward New Jersey in early November.
Little did he know, the unit’s junior Marines were hot on his heels.
Sikes and other members of the Crystal Coast, N.C., chapter of Sheep Dog Impact Assistance, or SDIA, a nonprofit organization of volunteer military and public safety personnel dedicated to aiding communities and fellow military and emergency first responders impacted by disasters, were in the midst of launching their own relief effort when Sikes’ phone rang.
Without the knowledge of the battalion’s senior leadership, the unit’s non-commissioned officers spread word of Sikes’ mission and collected money to support his operation. They fabricated a reason to recall the master sergeant during their “One Bullet Away” Day, which was when the NCOs took command of the battalion for a day.
Sikes remained completely in the dark until he came face to face with a formation, mustered in his honor, and a money-stuffed envelope destined for the hurricane’s victims.
“I was completely taken back by it and impressed they took it upon themselves to do,” said Sikes. “Obviously it was their own willingness and kindheartedness to raise as much money as they did, regardless of who started the snowball downhill.”
The unit raised more than $800 in a matter of hours.
“Just seeing that envelope stuffed with everything from ones to twenties, it kind of raised the hair on the back of my neck,” said Sikes. “I’ll be quite honest. I was pretty blown away.”
The Marines added several hundred more dollars to the collection after the formation as they reached into their pockets and handed Sikes the cash in person.
More than a dozen SDIA team members added the cash to their convoy of supplies and headed to the damaged areas beyond.
The group of professionally trained military and emergency-response personnel set out on a four-day mission to deliver supplies and lend assistance to those in need.
“There is going to be an overwhelming need for people with (our) skill sets,” said Sikes, who joined the Crystal Coast chapter soon after its formation in April 2012. “We were able to go, find a hole in the balloon and put a Band-Aid on it.”
The devastation they encountered was extensive.
“When you were driving down the street, you were actually circumventing piles of debris people had taken out of their homes and put along the streets,” said Sikes, recalling the destruction in Brick, N.J., where water levels rose as much as 36 inches in many of the homes.
The team set straight to work providing assistance on their first night.
They stopped by the home of a wheelchair-bound servicemember, who joined the small task force at its makeshift base of operations in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J. Local police and volunteer first responders aided the team along the way as they visited a succession of other individuals caught in the path of the storm.
They then delivered their much needed trailers of supplies to various aid stations and began working hand in hand with area residents to clear debris.
The crew of relief workers came across an elderly couple who spent days attempting to clear their home foot by agonizing foot.
“When we saw that, we stopped our vehicles and asked, ‘Can we help you?’” recalled Sikes. “What they did in days, our group was able to finish the entire house in two hours.”
The group even took a few moments to bring some much needed holiday cheer to the area. Sikes and his team passed out a small stash of candy along with cold-weather supplies as they visited families that completely missed out on Halloween trick-or-treating when the storm struck.
“His face just (lit up) like we were Santa Claus,” said Sikes, recounting the response of one little boy they visited. “It was heartwarming to be able to bring a smile to a kid’s face.”
They handed out everything from water and blankets to nonperishable foods and gas cans, which were almost impossible to find as far south as Virginia.
“Any area hit by something like that would have been devastated,” noted Sikes. “After coming out of that, you are just grateful. You feel bad any area had to endure it, but you are just grateful you didn’t have to.”
The battalion’s generous cash donations helped breach an even more urgent need in the beleaguered communities, which were already receiving stores of supplies from other good Samaritans.
“We found when we got there the most affected area was being inundated with food, water and other supplies,” said Sikes. “What was really needed was to get the emergency services back up and running.”
Many of the volunteer fire departments lost nearly everything in the hurricane’s wake. The team chose to place much of the unit’s cash directly into the hands of the local volunteers, where it could keep helping the area long after they left.