By Sgt. James F AbrahamFebruary 7, 2019
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. - Soldiers from the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) answered the call to action by directly assisting in disaster relief efforts, after the Oct. 12 landfall of Hurricane Michael.
As damage assessments remain underway, it's fair to say that Panama City was among the cities who received the brunt of the storm's wrath. Across the Florida Panhandle, from Panama City to Mexico Beach and Apalachicola, debris continues to be cleared, and many residential areas still remain inaccessible because of fallen trees and wires. So, that's exactly where 7th SFG(A) Soldiers focused a majority of their efforts.
Through the approach and passing of Hurricane Michael, the Commander of 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Col. Patrick T. Colloton, focused on the safety and accountability of the Soldiers and families of deployed Soldiers within the Group. While over 250 families had evacuated the area and began their return home, our local communities and compound were not severely affected. The neighboring communities to our east however, received the brunt of the impact, and the people in those communities required immediate assistance.
"There was an overwhelming desire from the formation to provide support, and I felt it was a call to action", said Colloton. "Soldiers were taking it upon themselves to go and provide assistance on their own time and their own dime over the weekend. As the commander, I wanted to provide people the opportunity to volunteer. So, I took personal leave and encouraged our commanders within the group to grant special pass for Soldiers to go help neighbors in need." The response was overwhelming. Hundreds of 7th Group Soldiers took time out of their day, and utilized personal vehicles and equipment to help Emerald Coast communities in and around Panama City. To me this demonstrated what is in the heart of 7th Group Soldiers, and what it how being a member of the Red Empire family extends to our local communities". Members of the 7th Group saw a need, and filled it. The care and concern always was, and is, what makes 7th Group great.
Over the last few weeks, Group personnel continue to volunteer in damaged areas, averaging approximately 500 Soldiers a week providing debris clearing and other essential tasks in areas affected by the storm. Over 104 personnel with the 20th Special Forces Group (Airborne) of the Alabama National Guard worked alongside 7th Group personnel while performing search and rescue.
In addition to the tremendous volunteer effort, 7th SFG(A) offered their land as an Intermediate Staging Base established at the Group compound for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to have access to residential areas in need.
"The Red Empire is happy to host the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA in their efforts to assist the people affected by Hurricane Michael," said Maj. Colin O'Toole. "Our proximity to multi-lane roads and capability of providing a safe and secure staging area provides us with a great opportunity to augment our state and federal emergency response brothers and sisters. We are 100 percent dedicated to helping where and how we can."
The engineers of 7th SFG(A) worked tirelessly to clear an area of open space to allow FEMA to set up an ISB, where generators, equipment and management personnel were sent out to various affected areas to generate electricity, according to O'Toole, a 7th SFG(A) Engineer.
Maj. Heath Sheehan, the Group deputy surgeon, says that he grew up in Fort Walton Beach and has seen the effects of hurricanes so this is a personal matter of going to help those people in affected areas.
"I believe our guys would be out volunteering whether they receive credit, or not. They are not doing it for the credit, it comes from the heart." Sheehan said. "It brings the community closer together to see that 7th SFG(A) is out here volunteering selflessly."
A 7th SFG(A) medical noncommissioned officer in charge, who also volunteered to help with hurricane relief, explained he knows how it feels to have to start over from experience.
"It's only right to help a community in need, especially a community that supports its service members. We have the tools and abilities to help those affected by this disaster and any aid we provide is going toward the ultimate goal of restoring a normal life for these people," he said.
Soldiers of 7th SFG(A) have been generously volunteering their time and efforts to clearing debris, cutting and moving trees out of roadways, and handing out food and water.
Nancy Jump, a native of Palm Harbor, Fla., resides with her parents in Panama City. Her family is one of the benefactors who received aid from 7th SFG(A) Soldiers. Her parents' home was surrounded by fallen trees and debris, and unable to get out. Nancy sent out a message on social media requesting assistance to save her family.
Members of 7th SFG(A) received her message, and immediately responded to the call. When the team arrived, Jump's parents were still trapped inside after Hurricane Michael passed through. They working together tirelessly removing the debris and ultimately freed her trapped family.
"I was feeling completely helpless being unable to communicate with my parents. Words cannot express how much I appreciate what 7th SFG(A) is doing. They saved my family" said Jump.
Efforts like this prove the 7th SFG(A) and the Army are ready and always willing to help those in need. Providing humanitarian assistance is how we continue to foster great relationships with the community that we call home.
Lo Que Sea, Cuando Sea, Donde Sea.