Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Here Comes the Cavalry

You won't read about this story in your local newspaper, or see it on TV. It's not the kind of story the mainstream media likes to mention. But it's the kind of story that jumps out at you and proclaims, "America is Still populated by people who care about their neighbors and will roll up our sleeves to help them, as our forefathers did."

We're especially proud that our own Obie Oakley is one of the leaders of this "can do" group of men!

Here is his report:

The Katrina relief operations report from veterans of Co B, 20th Special Forces Group:

Report submitted by Obie Oakley

Eleven old guys drove upwards to 12 hours, moved into a small church in Vancleave, Mississippi on 27 Nov 05, ready to do their part in helping their fellow countrymen devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The locals didn't know what to expect from these veterans.

What set this group apart from the thousands of other volunteers who have flocked to Mississippi and Louisiana during the past three months is that they have been friends for more than 40 years, a lasting friendship fused together in a common bond called Special Forces.

We gave the area 55 man days of focused labor. When we left on 2 Dec, two homes that had been flooded were well on their way to become livable once again. Seeing the relief and appreciation in the two owners, both single mothers, made us know we had done the right thing in coming.

Despite the aching muscles long underused, the sleeping on a church Sunday School floor amidst a chorus of ten other guys snoring only inches away, waiting in the cold to use the make shift outdoor shower, seeing the depressing devastation of homes, schools, churches and businesses destroyed, we came away with a great sense of satisfaction. One for doing the job we set out to do and two for the six days of again being close together as a band of brothers devoted to each other and to a common mission. What a wonderful experience.

I have never been more proud that I was to be along side 75- year old Jim Phipps, 72- year old Harold Eddins and the baby of the crowd, 61 year old Bob Goss. And the rest of us in between – Joe Epley, Richard Harkins, Rudy Seger, Frank Geer, Heath Strawn, Nick Palmer and the Green Lizard- Don Mincey. Troopers today as they were 40 years ago. Phipps was the crew leader at one house, Geer at the other house -- both dwellings victims of the storm surge in Pascagoula, MS. We hung wall board, mudded and sanded. We made other corrections needed to get the houses back into shape for refinishing. Thanks guys, for letting me a part of this outstanding A-team.

Team member Don Mincey is arranging to get carpets and vinyl tile for the home his crew worked on and Eddins daughter agreeing to pay for the installation. The giving continues.

The local folks there were emotionally thankful for our commitment and services, and awed that men of varied backgrounds who served in an Army unit 40 years ago were still together, still committed to service and able to outperform crews half their ages.

(One side note, a 45-year old woman from Lexington, SC got so put-out with her initial crew of men who, she said, worked about 20 minutes out of every hour, that she asked to be reassigned to the Special Forces crews. Of course, Geer latched on to her since he only had 5 in his crew even though she said he was older than her daddy. She was a hard worker, and even listened intently as Phipps and Seger explained the finer points of chewing tobacco. In our last church service Thursday night, she told everyone how much she 'loved the eleven special forces guys and what they were doing.')

Special thanks also goes to those who helped us with financial and material contributions, and to Providence Baptist Church for the loan of a van.

We also have high admiration and respect for Rev Larry and Celeste Maugh and the members of the Vancleave United Methodist Church. They have put together a support center that is staffed by community volunteers from several other churches to provide sleeping quarters and meals for the recovery volunteers that come from all over the country. They coordinate the working assignments based on the skill levels of the volunteers and coordinate getting supplies to work the work sites so the incoming volunteers have no wasted time. It is a small church in a small community about 15 miles inland from the Gulf. But it is a church with a big heart and the Maugh's are outstanding leaders in Christian ministry as well as relief operations.

The hurricane may be three months ago in history, but the devastation is still very apparent in the region., and restoration work will take years to complete. Volunteer workers will be needed for months to come.

Obie Oakley