Lorenzo Green (left) and Larry Bowen (right), new best friends and evacuees of Hurricane Matthew, enjoy a funny conversation at the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center, in Savannah, Georgia, October 10, 2016. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Perry)
SAVANNAH INTERNATIONAL TRADE AND CONVENTION CENTER, Savannah, Ga., October 10, 2016 – I remember the first time I seriously considered military service. I was watching TV and a commercial with Soldiers conducting rescue missions out of a helicopter was on. It had that feel good music to make you want to sign up that same day. Though it would be years later before I actually raised my right hand to join the Army National Guard, I still remember that feeling of empowerment and purpose.
With nearly five years under my belt, I finally experienced that feeling. As we received the news of Hurricane Matthew preparing to pummel the south eastern coast of the United States, I knew I might be called upon. Before I knew it, I dropped my toddler son off with his grandparents in the middle of the night, and I was headed south on a closed highway.
What most civilians don’t realize is that in addition to the first responders like the police, fire department, power companies, EMTs, and others; the National Guard is the second group to move in and assist the civil support agencies where needed. Yes, military vehicles can be scary to some, but behind those steering wheels are our nations’ sons and daughters that possess special skills that are vital to every mission given. They are professional engineers, water purification specialist, mechanics, IT technicians, and more.
I’ll never forget the feeling that really struck my heart when I walked into the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center. My line of work grants me more access than most and that day we were documenting the activities of an infantry company that was assisting the American Red with returning evacuees. Yes, infantry Soldiers were passing out first aid kits, moving supplies, distributing water and playing games with the children. Seeing them with the children was nearly tear-jerking because who knew what their families would soon have to return home to.
Then across the room I noticed an unlikely pair; two elderly men laughing as if a Hurricane had never even happened. I couldn’t help myself. I just had to speak with them. As soon as I walked over they both smiled greeting me warmly; giving me permission to sit on the cot across from them.
Their names were Larry and Lorenzo, two gentlemen in their mid to late sixties with the biggest smiles you’d ever see. Despite being born during a time when their interaction would have been discouraged, they had recently become the best of friends. Delighted by my eagerness to hear more, they welcomed my interview.
“This was my fourth time evacuating,” said Lorenzo Green, 65, Savannah native.
He had heard the housing authority and police would be coming around to evacuate everyone and that there would be a curfew put in place.
“The only thing I did was start packing and went downstairs to catch the CAT bus to the civic center,” Green said.
There, he filled out paperwork and boarded the evacuation bus to Augusta; where the two men met. You would have never known they had just met each other because they knew each other’s stories so well and often times finished each other’s sentences. Unlike Lorenzo, Larry didn’t know what to expect but he knew the situation was urgent enough to take seriously.
“I didn’t know what to do,” said Larry Bowen, 69, of Pooler, Georgia. “I’ve never evacuated so when I saw the TV screen read evacuate, get out of here; I got scared.”
He had never seen that type of warning in Pooler before.
“I called GA Power to see what I needed to do with my appliances,” Bowen said. “I turned my refrigerator on high and unplugged my air conditioner.”
Luckily while he was away, Bowen was able to speak to a neighbor that stayed behind who reported that his home looked fine; information that was definitely appreciated. The one thing they both kept mentioning was how nice and professional the police and civil support personnel were.
They were both very pleased by their experience which will most likely make the decision to evacuate a bit easier for them in the future.
Overall, I didn’t know what to expect when I went to support the Hurricane Matthew relief efforts; but I can say that it was one of the most gratifying experiences of my time in service. We were there to help and I witnessed it firsthand. For days soldiers were helping people, directing traffic, removing trees, distributing food, monitoring neighborhoods in the dark, helping clean up and all without appearing to think twice about the holiday weekend they were missing with their families. This is how I know I made the right choice.
To my fellow American citizens, be thankful that you live in the United State of America. It is because of our tax paying dollars and these selfless acts from our first responders, military service members, and those of everyday citizens that voluntarily lend a helping hand; is what truly make our nation great. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to rebuild our nation as timely and as efficiently as we do. We are so very blessed.
As long as my line of work promotes teamwork, integrity, peace, unity, diplomacy, decency, inclusiveness and selfless-service; I will always do my best to uphold and exemplify the strong moral values my parents instilled in me. I can only hope that you too will find your purpose. May God bless America!