COLQUITT, Ga — “When you’re young and in a small town, you think, ‘Everyone knows who I am, everyone knows my family.’ and you want to get out to something bigger.”
“But that is what has made this so great!” explained Sharon McKinnon a resident of Colquitt, Ga. who was waiting in line for the Georgia Air National Guard’s Disaster Relief Mobile Kitchen Trailer in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. “We’ve all been taking care of each other.”
The DRMKT allows Guardsmen to provide cooked food for those in need as well as service members in the event of a disaster.
McKinnon and her family had only had one hot meal prior to the arrival of the DRMKT, almost a week after the storm. Without power, clean water, and gas, residents impacted by the storm had little to no means to store and cook food. Prior to the arrival of the DMRKT, McKinnon and her family received water and Meals-Ready-to-Eat from Airmen and Soldiers of the Georgia National Guard at the designated Point of Distribution.
Airmen and Soldiers at the POD had been working side-by-side with the community.
“We had one gentleman that lives across the street. He has lost almost everything. Despite that, he let us use his forklift, and he worked with us for nearly six hours unloading trucks,” said Tech. Sgt. Lauren Swanson a vehicle operator at the 116th Air Control Wing.
“The firefighter’s wives have been cooking for us and doing our laundry,” said Swanson. “They’ve done so much for us and all they have asked for is tarps and baby food.”
When Airmen and Soldiers returned from delivering tarps and baby food to the fire department, they saw something moving in a tree line.They discovered an elderly amputee-man, who was struggling to stand. They pulled over to see if the man needed assistance.
“His house was crushed, his car was crushed,” said Swanson. “It was so bad it was hard to imagine anyone was living there.”
The Guardsmen gave him ice and cold drinks and decided on calling Emergency Medical Services to come take care of him.
While Guardsmen distributed supplies to the community, Airmen from the Georgia Air National Guard’s 165th Airlift Wing and 116th Air Control Wing Civil Engineering Squadrons were the first in the region after the storm. The Civil Engineer Airmen worked in coordination with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and local authorities to conduct route clearance.
“At first my mission was to get in contact with the local public works,” said Maj. Bjorn Helgeson, the Deputy Base Civil Engineer for the 165th Airlift Wing. “The public work crews were in survey mode since they know the area better than we do; they tell us where they need us
– and we will go there.”
Because the county consists of mostly rural areas, the majority of the highly traveled routes were dirt roads.
“There were times we couldn’t even tell there were roads in front of us,” said Helgeson. “There were just trees on top of trees; it just looked like woods. Had the public works teams not told us there were roads, we never would have known.”
Airmen recounted at one point there were eighteen large trees less than half-a-city block. Although many of the roads were dirt roads, they are considered high-traffic areas for the locals, sometimes closing off several households to main roads in the area.
“At one point we had a prior-service Marine come out and visit us on-site because he lived up the street,” said Helgeson. “He invited us over to his house and he cooked up hotdogs and hamburgers for everyone working.”
In addition to the POD, DRMKT, and route clearance operations, the 283rd Combat Communications Squadron was activated to support the local law enforcement entities with their communication channels, as most of the 911 capabilities were not functioning as a result of the storm.
“I’ve just generally been amazed with everyone. I’m so impressed with how everyone is coming together and how kind everyone is,” said McKinnon.