Troops who faced disaster Soldier on with help of unit
December 6, 2012
WINNEMUCCA, Nev. (July 18, 2012) -- Sgt. James A. Schumann always used to enjoy watching from his porch while storms rolled in across the sky.
Then Sunday, May 22, 2011, happened.
Schumann had recently joined the 329th Combat Support Sustainment Battalion, a Reserve unit, but didn't have battle assembly that weekend. Instead, he was at his home in Joplin, Mo., with his 7-year-old son while his wife was at work.
The tornado sirens had gone off about 10 minutes before. He was on his porch watching the darkening sky as his son played video games in the house.
"It turned a black I've never seen before," he said. "Something told me to go inside, so I did."
Schumann estimated it took about 15 seconds before the windows started exploding. He grabbed his son and ran into the hallway for shelter from the chaos, but it only became worse.
"Next thing we know, the roof is gone," he said. "The walls were gone."
It was when the surrounding trees began crashing into his home that Schumann started to really worry. He and his son took refuge in the boy's bedroom, quickly pulling a mattress over them.
When the storm had passed, there were just two walls standing in his house, but Schumann and his son had only suffered minor cuts. The tornado, which was one of the deadliest in U.S. history, claimed more than 150 lives and devastated the city.
Schumann was one of several Soldiers from his unit who lived in Joplin and were directly impacted by the event. Slightly more than a year later, they were attending annual training in Winnemucca, Nev., for Operation Golden Cargo, a nationwide logistics mission.
Spc. Steven L. Platt was two hours away from his house in Joplin, visiting family with his wife, when the tornado hit. However, his three teenage children were home. When a tornado alert came across his phone, he called and warned them to get into the bathroom at the center of the house.
"I had one phone in one hand and my wife's phone in the other," to communicate with the kids and monitor the storm at the same time, he said.
The teens piled into the bathtub, with the oldest on top to protect the others, he said. Luckily, the tornado did not hit his house, but Platt discovered a changed community after he raced home.
"I've never been in a battle zone," he said, describing the widespread destruction. "[But] I can imagine that's what it would be like."
Platt, who works for a cleaning company in his civilian life, volunteered with his church to help with the subsequent recovery efforts -- handing out clothes, bedding and other supplies to fellow residents.
"Half the buildings we cleaned weren't there anymore," Platt said. "Since I wasn't affected, at least I could help out the people who were."
He wasn't the only one to volunteer. Although the 329th CSSB is based in Parsons, Kan., about 60 miles from Joplin, many Soldiers stepped forward to offer aid and volunteered to go to the town to help the Missouri National Guard.
Capt. Robert L. Blankenship of Broken Arrow, Okla., who commands the Headquarters Company for the unit, said it reflected well on those Soldiers who offered assistance. Likewise, many residents in the Parsons area also took up donations to provide for the Joplin community.
"It speaks real well of the area as a whole," he said. "They didn't just help our Soldiers … They knew there was a greater need there more than just people they knew."
Platt, who works in supply for the unit, said about 10 people, both officers and NCOs, texted him after the disaster to find out if he and his family were OK.
"I even had one captain who said 'If I didn't hear from you, I'd be coming down to look for you,'" he said. "I was extremely impressed by that."
Schumann, who handles mortuary affairs for the military, had only joined the unit two months before the tornado and did not expect the outpouring of support provided by the 329th CSSB. His fellow Soldiers donated about $1,000 to help out and the battalion sergeant major offered his house to stay in.
"We really are a family here," Schumann said. "I've never seen a unit come together and support like this until it came together in my time of need."
With the assistance of relatives, friends and a bit of aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Schumann and his family rebuilt their home while living in an apartment. They moved into the new house, which sits on the site of the prior one, just a couple of months before the July annual training event.
Last year, he managed to attend the unit's annual training in August despite his losses. This time he was able to handle the two-week mission with a lighter load, helping manage convoys as they exchanged thousands of pounds of ammunition.
"It was a little different because I didn't want to leave my house this time," Schumann said. "[But] I know it will be waiting for me."