WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – Many surrounding areas of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base were damaged from tornadoes that struck Mercer, Montgomery, and Greene County, Ohio on Memorial Day.
As Air Force Research Laboratory Material and Manufacturing Directorate employees realized their coworkers were affected by the tornadoes, they quickly offered help.
Executive Officer Capt. Evan McDowell was one of several employees who had little to no damage to their own home and helped those who were less fortunate.
“It’s kind of unreal because every time there’s some kind of disaster, it doesn’t really hit home. We actually have 10-12 people right now whose homes were destroyed and hundreds others that don’t have power or water. Driving into work when all the lights were out, all the cars backed up. It hit home pretty hard,” McDowell explained.
Following the devastation, organizational emails were sent out to see who had been affected and who could be helped.
Excused absences were authorized for those employees who had suffered significant property and/or significant injury to self or immediate family members due to the storms.
“The community outreach we’ve seen, at least on base, has been phenomenal,” McDowell said. People provided food, shelter, and water for those who needed it. More than 20 people were relocated to live with people within the directorate or others on base.
McDowell helped Capt. Blake McCollum, along with other volunteers, to remove six to eight fallen trees on his property.
McCollum had lost a total of 37 trees from his acre and a half property.
After growing up in Arkansas and going to college in Oklahoma, McCollum did not expect to encounter his first tornado in Ohio.
As far as his home, there is still a structure and it is still livable.
A window was lost and gutters came down from the roof. The driveway is elevated from a fallen tree and all electrical was yanked from the house. However, they are safe and the damage was not comparable to that of his neighbors.
“That sounds like a lot [of damage], but when you go out there and you see the devastation, you realize how fortunate we were,” McCollum said.
Immediately after the tornado passed, McCollum and his wife called their neighbors to make sure they were okay. When they told him that their neighborhood was hit, he thought they were joking until he walked outside and saw the damage for himself.
By the end of the next day, McCollum had over 120 unread texts and had numerous people stop by his home to see if he and his family were okay.
McCollum says he knew this was a special place to work because of the people. Colleagues showed up offering meals, babysitting services, and chainsaws.
“Even if they couldn’t make it physically themselves, they were always there supporting. That was really special and it wasn’t just one day, it was throughout that whole week and still people are asking what they can do,” said McCollum, explaining what the support meant to him.
Now, all 37 of the trees have been chopped up and pushed to the edge of the property for city clean up.
“I only had about one hour of chainsaw experience before all this happened and now I’m a professional,” McCollum said jokingly. “It was nice having a lot of people from work, learning from all the people that came out.”
McCollum reflected on the past week and felt so much love for all those who helped him out.
Matt Berent was also relieved to have the AFRL community come help him with fallen trees on his property.
“It was the world [to have help] because we had so much tree parts in our yard, you couldn’t even see the house there was so many of them everywhere. They came and brought chain saws and manpower,” Berent said.
Berent lost five big trees, thought to date back to the 1970s, along with shingles missing from his roof, exposing the plywood, and glass missing from his car windows.
Every single tree on his property was affected, but none fell onto his home.
Berent realized right away that the damage was going to be a lot to clean up. With the help of the AFRL community and local churches, his yard was cleaned up within days of the tornado.
“People showed up and worked hours and hours hauling stuff. They helped us to get the yard in very very good shape. Saved us hundreds of man hours between them and other groups,” Berent said.