Sgt. Caquan Palmer -- Hurricane Sandy Survivor & Volunteer
February 12, 2013
SCHWEINFURT, Germany -- Army Sgt. Caquan "Cue" Palmer and his family sat in the shadowy living room listening to the hurricane hurl debris outside. But grandmother's prayers were answered when Hurricane Sandy shifter her course, narrowly averting havoc on the family home.
It was October 28, 2012. This had become just the latest in a series of misfortunes to plague Palmer and his family in such a short span of time.
THE HURRICANE: THINGS COMES TUMBLING DOWN
Just days prior to Sandy's rampage, Sgt. Palmer -- assigned to Schweinfurt's 9th Engineer Battalion -- had been in Schweinfurt working CQ duty at the front desk as resident Soldiers passed through the barracks. That's when the Red Cross message came in: "Caquan Palmer, your grandfather has died."
You see, Palmer was born in prison and his grandparents had adopted the baby boy. So, in Palmer's mind, it was his 'father' who had just died.
Still, Palmer felt like his grandfather was in a better place. After all, his grandfather had battled cancer three times in the past ten years and had fought each attack into remission. Now, October 20, Easton Everett Sparkes lie dead in his sleep.
Easton Everett Sparkes was the strong-silent type who enjoyed a stiff drink every now and then, Palmer recalls. Sparkes definitely forwent the touchy, feely stuff. Not to say that he didn't embody other notable characteristics. The Good Samaritan worked hard, kept it real, and always did the right thing even if he didn't like it. If he had to help a person, he might give them hell for it, but he'd do it.
"Simultaneously, he was the most flawed man I've ever met and the greatest man in the world," says Palmer about his grandfather. "He didn't really hide his faults too much. I can count how many times he had told me he loved me on one hand, but there was never lack in the house and always food on the table."
Palmer's young life mirrors his grandfather's 76 years. Sparkes served as a sergeant in the Jamaican Defense Forces, just as Palmer has been serving the American Army for nearly 8 years. Sparkes acted as an Emergency Police Officer in the Constables, while Palmer has volunteered with the New York Fire Department.
In fact, Palmer's volunteer record is what makes him stand out.
Palmer is a decorated Soldier with many medals awarded for his volunteer service. He's been awarded for his dedication to the Combined Federal Campaign and for assisting stranded civilians during the New York blackout in 2004. Most recently he received an Army Achievement Medal for his work with the Bamberg High School Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.
"It helps me deal with Baghdad. I've been deployed three times," Palmer says on his efforts toward ROTC. "So, it helps me deal with all that stress. I like having little Soldiers that won't die. Working with kids is worth it. Someone helped me and took an interest in me when I was a kid."
Palmer believes that it really does take a village to raise a child. He often dedicates his time to kids whose parents are altogether absent or gone much of the time.
"Mentoring is more than being a big brother," says Palmer. He takes personal responsibility in the kids' emotional and physical well-being, making sure to even teach them self-worth.
THE FUNERAL: PICKING UP THE PIECES
The day of the funeral had come, but would not happen. In all of Sandy's rage, she had blown the circuit to the funeral home's electrical gate. Days would pass before the body could finally leave the parlor. Even longer before the funeral.
Time moved forward. The funeral was rescheduled, though actual turnout of loved ones would be cut in half by downed flights from the Caribbean. This time it would really happen. Palmer carefully put on a crisp military uniform in a dark room. The house was still without power.
It was an honest funeral in remembrance of a flawed, but decent man.
"We usually cover up our issues," says Palmer. "However, I like being honest. Have you ever gone to a funeral where the speaker is talking about the deceased and everyone is like 'Who the hell are they talking about? I don't know that guy?'"
Palmer's volunteerism spirit kicked into overdrive ever since Sandy -- her attitude and all -- cleared New York. Not even a significant death and delayed funeral service could stop Palmer from stepping up. Almost every leave day was used to aid the victims of the tempest.
In New York, Palmer was assigned Team Leader with Team Rubicon -- an organization that pairs the skills and experiences of military vets with medical professionals who then deploy as emergency response teams to crisis situations. Palmer used what he knew as a combat engineer and noncommissioned officer.
On being a part of Team Rubicon, the Army Core Value of Selfless-Service reached a surface: "Outside of actual combat, a natural disaster is a time when I actually get to do my job," he says.
The Rubicon mission was a lot like a deployment. The organization maintained a central headquarter called FOB Hope which was attacked by looters for resources from time to time. When the mission was complete, Palmer likened it to the reintegration after an Army deployment -- from mentally exhausted to adjusted back to normal life without worries.
During the days following Sandy's exit, the team treaded through toxic water, used their military skills to rescue citizens trapped within their homes and ensured the well-being of senior citizens living alone. Palmer and Team Rubicon even implemented suicide prevention training and established procedures to ease the citizens back to normal, such as using car batteries for power sources.
"You'll be amazed at how many people do not have children or grandchildren to take care of them," Palmer recollects.
"My grandparents were very keen on me experiencing things outside of the 'hood," Palmer says fondly of his grandfather. "Summers we would go to Jersey and go deep-sea fishing on the boat. My grandfather has this thing about teaching me how to survive on the land. He taught me how to cut down sugar cane to use as a fishing rod, clean and cut up fish, and make hooks out of rocks. He liked hardening me because he believed that if you can survive on the land, then you can survive anything in life."
Palmer carries the memories of war with him, evidenced by the Purple Heart pinned to his ball cap. But he also carries with him the memories of his childhood as he went throughout neighborhoods with the Rubicon team. The team used whatever was on hand -- unneeded resources other neighbors possessed, scraps littered along the streets, whatever they could get their hands on -- to assist and keep disaster victims afloat.
Palmer wishes more individuals would do their part by participating in community service on any level.
"I like the feeling I get doing it, especially when it's dangerous to do it," said Palmer about volunteering. "The Christian thing to do is to 'Love they neighbor.' I have my issues. I'm not the most morally upright person, but I'm honest about it. In all things, I have my integrity -- right, wrong, or indifferent."
"I just don't want anyone to think that I didn't try," said Palmer of his dedication to helping others. "I may never be rich in my life, but ten years from now, if I'm just a bum on the street, someone will pick me up, brush me off, and give me a sandwich. Somebody will remember. Someone will care."