Airmen volunteer in storm-wracked areas of Okla.

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jeff M. Nagan
  • 3rd Combat Camera Squadron

Nature's wrath in the form of a 1.5-mile-wide, EF-5 tornado ripped a path through the town of Moore, Okla., just south of Oklahoma City, May 20, killing 24, injuring hundreds and leaving thousands of homes in ruins. The day before, a deadly tornado ripped through small towns just east of the base. In addition to federal and state workers, more than 600 Airmen from three Oklahoma Air Force bases volunteered to assist residents in recovering some of their effects, May 24. Much of the Air Force had the day off to spend time with their families, but for volunteers in the greater Oklahoma area, the day served as a chance to help other families.

72nd Air Base Wing commander, Col. Steven Bleymaier asked Tinker Air Force Base members to support what he dubbed the "Helping Families Day" May 24 on what was a scheduled day off in cunjunction with the Memorial Day holiday. "Let's show the state and the nation our Team Tinker fighting spirit by helping our fellow Oklahomans and Tinker Teammates during their time of need," Colonel Bleymaier said.

"This was my chance to help the community," said 1st Lt. Linna De Cuir, air weapons officer, 964th Airborne Air Control Squadron, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. "The public is military friendly, and we want to give back to the community."

In addition to Tinker AFB, Airmen from Altus AFB, Okla., and Vance AFB, Okla., joined in the cleanup effort.

"If I could find a memento or picture, it could mean a lot to the families," said De Cuir, who is originally from Lincolnton, N.C. "Even something little can go a long way."

Serving as extra hands and eyes, working alongside residents the volunteers sifted through the rubble, moving brinks, boards and other debris in search of valuables. For one resident, the discovery of fragments of a china set she inherited from her grandparents nearly brought her to tears.

"Even a few pieces help keep these memories alive with me," said Mona Thomas, a 35-year resident of Moore. "I can pass them down to my grandchildren."

Without the help of the Airmen, she would have had to search through the debris by herself or wait for her relatives to arrive, Thomas explained. The Airmen allowed her to immediately start uncovering the remains of her shattered home.

"I was coming in to dig out my stuff and these guys were here," she said, referring to the Airmen who were still assisting residents after nearly eight hours. "They asked if I need anything, and they jumped right in."

Many of the Airmen had started the volunteer effort as early as 8 a.m. Even as the sun began to dip in the evening, many were still among the rubble, helping local residents. Although their effort made a small impact, it strengthens hope and resolve in the community.

"I am devastated, but the community support is outstanding," said Thomas. "We are united Oklahomans. We are one family. It is just wonderful the love and support from complete strangers--strangers you may never meet again."