First Lady Dr. Jill Biden visited Fort Campbell families Dec. 23 to meet with families impacted by a deadly EF-3 tornado that damaged and destroyed hundreds of area homes and businesses, leaving thousands displaced.
“I know that the last two weeks have really tested your strength, but even in this moment of grief and heartbreak, there is so much love and support that surrounds you,” Biden said. “I know it can be hard to ask for help when you are usually the ones answering the call, but I hope that you let others share the weight of your burden.”
Accompanied by Santa Claus on what was whimsically called "Sleigh Force One," Biden encouraged military families grappling with the rebuilding. Military families and dedicated volunteers, who had responded to support recovery efforts, were treated to an afternoon of respite to celebrate the holiday with their children who met Santa and received presents hand-delivered by Toys for Tots and Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marines, Kilo Co. Smyrna, Tenn.
On Dec. 9, 2023, a series of EF2 and EF3 tornadoes struck the region killing 6 in Tennessee and inflicting millions of dollars of damage throughout central Tennessee. In Clarksville, the National Weather Service outlined the destructive path of a 600 yard wide EF-3 tornado that traveled 42 miles with wind speeds of 150 miles per hour.
More than 500 Fort Campbell Soldiers and their families were displaced. The once serene landscapes bore the scars of destruction, with shattered homes and uprooted trees. Yet, amidst the debris, a resilient spirit emerged, underscoring the strength of a community unwilling to be defeated.
As the storm clouds dispersed and the true extent of the damage became apparent, the people of Montgomery County wasted no time rallying together. In the face of adversity, a wave of compassion and solidarity swept through the community, binding neighbors and strangers alike in a common cause: to rebuild, restore, and support one another.
Maj. Kevin Quiros of the 101st Airborne Division shared his recollection of that fateful Saturday. “We had just taken photos with Santa at the PX and were settling in to watch the Army-Navy game…We quickly sheltered into our laundry room, and within seconds, the tornado devastated our home and neighborhood.” Quiros acknowledged the immediate response from neighbors, highlighting the community's resilience. “The outpouring of generosity from our community and beyond has been extraordinary. It is in the spirit of strength and unity.”
Local shelters transformed into beacons of humanity and generosity as families sought refuge. Volunteers worked tirelessly, not only providing essential supplies but also offering a comforting embrace of compassion. The outpouring of donations, extending beyond county lines and crossing state borders, emphasized the profound interconnectedness of communities facing crisis.
Fort Campbell Garrison Commander, Col. Chris Midberry, expressed gratitude to first responders and the broader community. Volunteers, ranging from high school students to retirees, joined forces to clear debris and offer support. Churches, community centers, and schools opened their doors to provide shelter, food, and emotional support. Mental health professionals offered counseling services to those grappling with the trauma of the disaster.
Midberry acknowledged the community's resilience, saying, “Our community has been hard hit by tragedy this year, and it is humbling to see our community come together again and again despite it all. We are honored to be a part of this community, we thank you for your support, and we will continue to support you, as well.”
In the midst of tragedy, Montgomery County witnessed the emergence of countless unsung heroes, from first responders risking their lives to volunteers providing comfort to the displaced. The community came together in a powerful display of unity.
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Brett Sylvia, commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division, reflected on the past two weeks, acknowledging acts of heroism and selfless service. He emphasized that tragedy, while devastating, can bring out the best in people.
“We’re very proud of all of those who have been extending efforts, extending a helping hand to those that are in need. We have heard great stories of people doing wonderful things,” said Sylvia. “We are continuing to support; not just with thoughts and prayers, but with actions and activities to ensure that everyone out there can take care of themselves and take care of one another. We will be robust in our support to this community.”