By Mr. Edward N Johnson (USACE)May 12, 2018
On the evening of Oct. 8, 2017, more than 250 wildfires erupted and burned throughout Northern California, including Napa, Lake, Mendocino, Solano, Yuba and Butte counties. In total, officials say nearly 9,000 structures were destroyed and more than 40 people were lost their lives.
Almost immediately, the President signed a Federal disaster declaration, setting into motion the largest debris cleanup mission in the state's history, since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was then called upon by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to take on the monumental task of removing debris as quickly and safely as possible from impacted areas spanning more than 314 square miles.
"This is perhaps one of the largest debris removal missions the Corps of Engineers has ever been tasked to support in history." said Maj. Elizabeth M. Sutey, a 2007 West Point Graduate and the current Northern California Wildfire Regional Field Office deputy commander.
"Like other disaster recovery missions currently underway, we knew there would be a need to bring Corps of Engineers personnel from across the country in to help," said Sutey. "As part of that effort, we also actively sought help of our community of highly skilled rehired annuitants."
A rehired annuitant is an individual who is retired from the Federal government but may later be rehired to fill critical gaps or assist with Federal emergency disaster operations, like the one currently underway in Northern California. A total of 56 retirees have volunteered to support this mission so far and more are expected to arrive in the coming weeks.
One such retired employee, Cheryl Michener, was spending her winter in North Carolina with kids and grandkids when the phone rang, asking if should would volunteer to deploy to Northern California to help with disaster response effort.
Michener, who started her career with the Federal Government in 1974 as a switchboard operator at the Niagara Falls Air Force Base, retired in 2015, after 42 years of Federal Service.
"I didn't hesitate to say yes when I got that call." said Michener. "The idea of saying no was not really an option because I knew the people out there really needed the help.
Since accepting her assignment, Michener has worked in the RFO in a variety of positions, including serving at different times throughout the deployment on the issue management, contracting, call center and data management teams.
"I've heard nothing but good things about Cheryl since arriving here earlier in the month and it's been a real honor and privilege to work with her in our contracting section," said Capt. Stephen J. Schwarz, contracting team lead. "She brings a lot of experience to the table and consistently goes out of her way to help out wherever and whenever she's needed."
Michener, who is on her second deployment to Northern California with USACE, is set to return home near the end of May.
"I spend my summers in Buffalo, New York, where you will normally find me at the Genesis Center helping serve meals for those in need or volunteering at a local hospice," said Michener. "Of course, I also love spending as much time with my friends and family as possible."
As part of its mission, USACE remains prepared and ready to respond to disasters and emergencies, when called upon to do so by FEMA. Rehired annuitants play a critical role in accomplishing that mission by volunteering their many years of experience, hard work ethic and depth of skill and knowledge.
"If I am called for another deployment I'll be glad to step up to the plate and help wherever I can," said Michener, when asked if she would volunteer to assist with future natural disasters. "I am so proud to work for the Corps and honored to be here on this mission."