‘Just part of our job’: National guardsmen reflect on saving man’s life after hurricane

National guardsmen reflect on saving man’s life after hurricane Michael

(WALB) - Members of the Air National Guard in Georgia said they saw South Georgia hospitality shine through in the days following Hurricane Michael.

The National Guard sent airmen to Seminole and Miller counties to clear roads and pass out supplies.

It ended up being a life-saving event for at least one man.

“That’s just part of our job,” said Technical Sgt. Anthony McConnell.

“That’s why we’re here,” said Technical Sgt. Lauren Swanson.

“It’s just what we do,” Technical Sgt. Eric Glass said.

Several members of the Air National Guard called 911 after speaking with a man who was without food, water, ice and medication. (Source: Air National Guard)
Several members of the Air National Guard called 911 after speaking with a man who was without food, water, ice and medication. (Source: Air National Guard) (Source: NATIONAL GUARD)

“Service before self” is a core value for the U.S. Air Force and Georgia Air National Guardsmen proved that one year ago.

“Just driving in, it looked like a desolate ghost town,” Glass said, recalling their arrival in Miller County.

One group went to Seminole County to clear roads. Their work helped first responders get through to help others.

It also helped people who live there get out of or back to their homes after the storm.

2nd Lt. Chris Dryja said there is a range of reactions from the airmen in these scenarios.

“Some people are excited, usually the ones who have done it before,” Dryja said. “Some are a little apprehensive because they don’t know what to expect. Some are just happy to get a chance to put on the uniform and serve the communities from which we come.”

Dryja said his group saw civilians in Seminole County doing what they could to help their neighbors in the days following the storm as well.

Another group, including Swanson, Glass and McConnell, coordinated a system to pass out supplies, like water, food and tarps, in Miller County.

“We didn’t have a loading dock, so we had to do it all by hand,” McConnell said. “We off-loaded more than three million pounds of food, water, MREs, tarps.”

But their work went beyond the physical act of passing out those necessities.

“We had a couple of people, not even gender-specific, come through the line and just break down,” Swanson said.

Several members of the Air National Guard called 911 after speaking with a man who was without food, water, ice and medication. (Source: Air National Guard)
Several members of the Air National Guard called 911 after speaking with a man who was without food, water, ice and medication. (Source: Air National Guard) (Source: NATIONAL GUARD)

They served as a shoulder to cry on for people who had lost virtually everything in one fell swoop.

“I mean, it’s heartbreaking, because a lot of them get really emotional,” Swanson said.

Just days after the hurricane, Swanson put the “service before self” mantra into action.

“I saw a gentleman kind of slumped over in his riding mower,” she recalled. “There was a massive oak tree that basically split his house in half. He didn’t look too hot. He was sheet white, sweaty.”

Swanson turned around to help.

After learning he didn't have water, food or medication, they got him some supplies.

"He didn't have anything," Swanson said. "He just progressively looked like he was getting worse and worse, so we called 911."

That action likely saved the man’s life, Georgia National Guard leaders said.

Swanson said she doesn't think she did anything any other airman wouldn't have done.

"It kind of warmed my heart a little bit, to be there and help him and render assistance," she said.

While that story stands out in her mind, the memories of how people in Colquitt reacted to the airmen's help have stuck with each guardsman.

They say people who had just been hit by a hurricane were helping them by cooking for them and even doing their laundry.

"It was very humbling," McConnell said. "Their response was just overwhelming joy."

It was all for these guardsmen who were just doing their job in Southwest Georgia's time of need.

“To see these people that we’re down there helping, to turn around and help us, it’s just very humbling,” Glass said.

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