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Team Scott members assist with Joplin tornado relief effort

JOPLIN, Mo. -- Volunteers, some from Scott Air Force Base, survey the destruction June 2 caused by an EF5 tornado that passed through Joplin, Mo., May 22. The tornado left 153 people dead and damaged more than 8,000 homes, schools and the St. John’s Medical Center. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Ed Mueller)

Volunteers, some from Scott Air Force Base, Ill., survey the destruction June 2, 2011, in Joplin, Mo., caused by an EF5 tornado that passed through Joplin on May 22, 2011. The tornado left 153 people dead and damaged more than 8,000 homes, schools and the St. John’s Medical Center. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech. Sgt. Ed Mueller)

JOPLIN, Mo. -- Volunteers from Scott Air Force Base traveled to Joplin, Mo., in the weeks following a EF5 tornado that passed through the town May 22. The tornado left 153 people dead and damaged more than 8,000 homes, schools and the St. John’s Medical Center. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Melissa Calabrese)

This photo shows a view of Joplin, Mo., on June 2, 2011. Volunteers from Scott Air Force Base, Ill., traveled to Joplin, Mo., in the weeks following a EF5 tornado that passed through the town May 22. The tornado left 153 people dead and damaged more than 8,000 homes, schools and the St. John’s Medical Center. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech. Sgt. Melissa Calabrese)

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- The May 22 EF5 tornado that ripped through the heart of Joplin, Mo., left 153 people dead and damaged more than 8,000 homes, schools and the St. John's Medical Center.

Though the town of Joplin is more than 300 miles away, the outpouring of support from Scott Air Force Base has been tremendous. From donations to search and rescue and even through music, Team Scott members have done all they can to help ease the burden on the Joplin community.

Many Team Scott members traveled to Joplin on their own to help in any way possible. First Lt. Sarah Foster, 375th Force Support Squadron, was part of an initial sweep team May 27-30 and June 4-5.

"We would go out and talk to homeowners to ask what kind of help they needed," she said. "This included anything from food and transportation to debris removal and supplies."

Airmen also formed teams within their squadrons. The 375th Security Forces Squadron, 375th Logistics Readiness Squadron and 932nd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron all formed teams to assist with search and rescue missions and debris removal.

Senior Airman Matthew Von Der Heyde, 375th SFS, and his team traveled to Joplin May 25.

"Our team was assigned to sweep an area assigned to us for casualties and damage to high value personal property," he said. "I was amazed by the amount of devastation and humbled by how the community pulled together to assist each other."

Senior Airman Stephen Scoles, 375th SFS, was part of the team with Airman Von Der Heyde.

"Before I got to the site, I was very nervous," Airman Scoles said. "I knew what to expect as I have been through tornadoes before, but I heard this tornado along with its destruction was unlike any other. I was speechless when I saw it, there was nothing left."

Members of the 932nd AES were also onsite assisting with search and rescue.

"Each day we would report to resource staging and be attached to rescue specific teams and deployed to various locations to try and locate individuals or remains," said Staff Sgt. Jason Garner. "We would complete focused or blanket searches using dog teams from multiple responding agencies. We would also operate as medics in the event a rescuer was injured or required first aid."

Another nine-member team from 375th LRS, led by Master Sgt. William Cook, volunteered their time June 2-4. They began Thursday sorting donations and assisted with debris removal Friday and Saturday.

"On Friday, the team did such a good job that they were approached by AmeriCorps to lead a 500 man volunteer team to do debris removal," said 1st Lt. Christopher Russell, 375th LRS.

Tech. Sgt. Ed Mueller, 375th LRS, was part of the team.

"My first impression was one of amazement at the sheer power of the storm," he said. "As we moved through the area, removing debris at actual home sites, the real gravity sank in. Over the period of three days, we heard neighbors discussing whether or not debris belonged to their shed or the other's home, we saw entire roofs removed, but the furniture inside virtually untouched, a hose thrown through a tree, we saw people come from states away just to work an eight-hour day cleaning in the dirtiest of conditions."
For Senior Airman Justin Ford, Air Force Network Integration Center, who is from Mt. Vernon, Mo., the need to help out hit a little closer to home.

"I am from the area and have a lot of friends who live and go to college there," he said. "I really wanted to do something, but felt I couldn't because I'm so far away, but then I came up with the idea for a donation."

Airman Ford contacted his first sergeant and local Red Cross May 24 to become a point of contact for those from around the Scott area who wanted to donate.

"Almost as soon as I contacted them, my phone starting ringing off the hook with people who wanted to donate," he said. "I collected so much that I had to make three trips down there because it all wouldn't fit."

In addition to helping with donations and clean-up, others like Master Sgt. Walter Worthington, Air Mobility Command, traveled to Joplin to assist with food collection and distribution. Sergeant Walter went to Joplin the weekend of May 27 again June 12 with his church to help run a food pantry.

"Work teams went out into the streets of Joplin to feed work crews as well as those still digging through the remains of their community," he said.

The sights that volunteers witnessed left a lasting impression on everyone.

"It was pure devastation," said Sergeant Worthington. "It was unbelievable."

"I've never seen anything like that," said Lieutenant Foster. "Seeing destruction on that mass scale was overwhelming."

"You can see the pictures in the media, but when you see it in person there are no words that can describe what that community went through," said Sergeant Cook.

Even more Scott members have found other ways to help. Tech. Sgt. Robert Anderson, 375th Civil Engineer Squadron, will help through music with his band Blitz. Sergeant Anderson will play at benefit concert, Jam for Joplin, at Kiener Plaza in St. Louis June 26. The event goes all day with Sergeant Anderson and his band playing at 2:45 p.m. on stage two.

"You never know when or who may be affected by something like what happened in Joplin," he said. "Everyone in my band with the exception of me are from Missouri, and when I was approached by another band playing the event asking if I would like to jump on board, I asked the other band members and they were all for it. We get to have fun doing what we love to do, play music, and help others in the process. In the end, that is what it is all about."