By Rikeshia Davidson
Joint Munitions Command Public Affairs

ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill.--"People don't understand the severity of what happened."

Susan McMahon feels that people--those across the U.S. and Iowa--see the flood waters and have even experienced floods in years past but fail to make it all register now.

McMahon works for the Joint Munitions Command as a staff action specialist but in times of disaster and relief efforts, she takes on the role of first responder. Along with her husband Jeff McMahon, division chief for business programs at the Rock Island Arsenal Garrison, Sue McMahon is in the business of helping others in their most trying times since August 2005. August 2005 ushered in Hurricane Katrina and McMahon headed to the Gulf Coast to aid in the relief effort.

Having been on the ground following the costliest hurricane--economically--to strike the U.S., McMahon recalled the misplaced ideas of others unaffected. Comments circulated about McMahon heading south to help "those people." Looking at the devastation today, she explained "it's not those people." McMahon questioned, "Who are those people anyway'"

"We are now those people," said McMahon. Thinking of the 40, 000 homes damaged in Cedar Rapids, Iowans have become the face of disaster. No one understands this like McMahon who calls the Quad Cities home but has relatives dotting locations in Iowa. Reeling off towns like Columbus Junction, Bluegrass and Buffalo, Iowa, she knows the severity of this flood. "I feel so much more weight on my shoulders," said McMahon. When asked "Is it personal'" she replied. "Yes, it's very personal."

McMahon's rationale for wanting to help extends further than her involvement with Hurricane Katrina efforts or even concerns for towns her relatives call "home." She gives of her time as a leader among the hierarchy of World Hope International's organization. A job in itself and completely separate of her duties as a JMC staff action officer, McMahon dedicates her time after work to being of service. "Cooperation, willingness and a servant's heart" embody McMahon's feelings about her involvement in relief efforts. "I leave work and am on the phone all night."

Three years ago, McMahon and her husband asked to be a part of the efforts to clean up the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina. "We moved up from volunteers to leaders," she said. As a result, McMahon has since become a certified first responder by the University of Maryland. From her experiences following the clean up of the Gulf Coast, she says there were "lots of lessons learned--(we) didn't have a good core of trained volunteers."

It's not just about signing up to help, it's also critical to undergo training as a volunteer in first response techniques. Does volunteerism necessitate training' McMahon says it's a hard sale to say, "We don't have a disaster anymore but we want to train you." She reflected on the tornadoes hitting Kansas and Georgia adding that through those situations "we couldn't generate volunteers."

In addition to acquiring and training volunteers, McMahon mentioned the deployment of the volunteers. The process functions in an organized manner with each team of volunteers assigned a team lead within in their team that reports to the site manager. People like McMahon serve as a link to the management of the operation. Next for McMahon is site manager training in Waterloo, Iowa, where she will continue to be a link in the chain.

At this point, she is doing all that is necessary to gather volunteers and give mini-training to those who have not been trained as first responders. McMahon noted that safety is one of the topics discussed during those mini-trainings.

While she awaits her upcoming site manager training, McMahon remembers the effects disaster relief had on site managers during Hurricane Katrina. "(In the past) site managers were on site for three months and it was a mistake--it will break you down," she said. Knowing the mental anguish McMahon continued adding, "it's like living inside that bomb destruction and you don't know it but it affects you." With training that helps you identify the emotional toll disaster takes on people, McMahon stressed the crisis victims reside in is a culmination of many things--physical disaster, mental anguish and financial uncertainty.

It is important for volunteers and those on the outside looking in to be aware of the levels of recovery: basic needs, assessment, destruction/removal, rebuilding and restoration/recovery. McMahon said, "You can't bypass any of those steps. People look for instant gratification--people don't understand the first two stages." And often when it's difficult to understand the stages, it's even harder to imagine that there is no magic timetable to completely restore a place (and people) to like-original conditions.

"Six months is good to execute relief and good if it could last a year," said McMahon. But she added "it's all up to us to say 'yes'."

So how do you raise the level of awareness from interest in the images on television to coming to the aid of others'

"It needs an identity!" "We need to call it something," affirmed McMahon. Perhaps it's safe to say that people feel compelled to help when they can relate--McMahon relates because she saw the waters rising and her family members did too. "It's not a Sue McMahon mission; I want to be less of me but more to help mankind." McMahon hopes the idea to "just help" becomes infectious. "I want people to be caught doing good things," she says. Better yet, McMahon wants to see more A.R.K or "acts of random kindness".

If there was ever a goal set following a trial or test, McMahon delivered a priceless goal to follow this effort: "I want people to carry their humanity and servant hood beyond (the usual perimeters)." Urging people she said, "Don't stay inside your box."

In addition to people caring more about the next person, McMahon hopes she can provide compassion to those affected. With a smile on her face McMahon said, "Look up the word compassion."

And so it goes, according to Merriam Webster: compassion--"sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it."

"I love that word," said McMahon.