Searching for survivors in Moore, Okla.
Sgt. Warren Williams, with the Oklahoma National Guard's 63rd Civil Support Team, searches debris in Moore, Okla., in response to the May 20, 2013, EF-5 tornado that struck the town, killing dozens of people.

MOORE, Okla. (May 24, 2013) -- For members of the 63rd Civil Support Team, their mission following the killer tornado, May 20, was more personal -- they knew people directly affected and some Soldiers even lived in the devastation path.

"We get to serve our community at home," said Sgt. Warren Williams, a unit member. "There are a lot of other agencies coming from other locations, but this is personal for us."

The 63rd CST was among the 163 total Guard personnel who responded to the huge twister, which killed at least 24 people, including nine children, according to official tallies.

The 63rd CST, consisting of 22 full-time active Guard reserve Soldiers, specializes in conducting search-and-rescue operations, atmospheric monitoring for hazardous materials and searching for physical hazards such as live downed electrical lines.

Many of the unit members have previously deployed and responded to other natural disasters including the search and rescue mission following a tornado in Piedmont, Okla., nearly two years ago.

Taking a similar path as a deadly May 3, 1999, tornado, which claimed the lives of 44 people, this most recent tornado is thought to have been even more destructive, with estimated damage costs rising above $1 billion.

The communities of Newcastle, Moore and parts of south Oklahoma City are soon to begin the process of rebuilding once again, returning the debris ridden neighborhoods to what they once were.

"These are people we know, there are people in the unit who have been affected by this personally, so it's satisfying to be out here helping our fellow neighbors," Williams said.

First responders from across the country have converged on Oklahoma City and Moore to assist with the search and recovery effort. The efforts of the Soldiers and first responders have resulted in more than 100 survivors being rescued from the storm shelters where they sought refuge from the storm.

Although the mission for the 63rd CST is far from complete, the commitment of service to community that has been demonstrated by the Oklahoma National Guard has greatly affected the success in the joint operation between military and local law enforcement on site.

"We work with the National Guard all of the time; it's a really good pairing," said Joe Holley, head of Tennessee Task Force 1 and an emergency medical services physician. "The military is great at the logistics part of a mission, and we have some special capabilities different from what the military that tie together in order to get the job done."

Page last updated Fri May 24th, 2013 at 06:47