Today’s guest blog comes from Sgt. Jon E. Dougherty, with the 70th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.
As a member of the Missouri National Guard, I’ve had many humbling experiences.
Most of them have come from helping people in need, whether in the form of assisting Missourians victimized by natural disaster, or helping to protect Afghan citizens victimized by extremists.
But since helping people in their hour of need is the cornerstone of the National Guard’s mission, no one knows how best to do that than Guard members themselves.
Which brings me to my latest, and perhaps most humbling, Guard experience – the one where the Guard lent me and my family the help and assistance we required in our hour of need.
On May 22, a powerful tornado devastated much of the city of Joplin. Within minutes of the disaster, the Guard was already responding to assist local authorities and officials in rescue and recovery efforts. Less than 24 hours after the tornado hit, hundreds of Guardsmen were either on the ground in Joplin or heading there. I was one of them, part of a public affairs team sent to record and document the recovery efforts.
A few days later my son, Zachary, sent me a text message informing me that he and elements of his unit, the 1140th Military Police Company, were being ordered to state emergency duty in Joplin, to assist local authorities in ongoing recovery operations. They arrived at Camp Crowder, south of Joplin, on the evening of the 26th, and began to convoy into the stricken city the next morning.
As they approached Joplin at sunrise, a civilian vehicle accidently came to close to the Humvee my son was driving and nearly collided with him. In an attempt to avoid that collision, Zach swerved and lost control, rolling his vehicle several times before it finally came to rest on the opposite side of the highway.
Fortunately, no one was killed but he and one of his teammates, Spc. Zach Knowles, sustained serious leg and hip injuries. Their team leader, Sgt. Aaron Edmonds, injured his wrist and shoulder.
As civilian medical teams rushed all three Soldiers to Freeman Medical Center, the only remaining hospital in Joplin, my commander, Maj. Tamara Spicer, state public affairs officer, was being notified the accident had occurred. When we learned that Soldiers from the 1140th were involved, Maj. Spicer – knowing my son was among those troops – immediately found out who they were and told me.
Much of what happened over the next several hours, especially, but also the next several days as well, is a blur. This much is clear, however: Without the support of my Guard family, my own family would not have fared as well as it did.
From Maj. Spicer who, as a parent herself, put in motion the orders to get me released from emergency duty and back with my family; to Sgt. 1st Class Parrish Taggart, my public affairs teammate who got me through a storm-ravaged city to the hospital where my son was in surgery; to Col. Wendul Hagler, chief of staff, who approved plans to get my family and my boy together by whatever means necessary; to Maj. Mike Brown, 203rd Engineer Company, a comrade-in-arms in Afghanistan who personally delivered me to the Joplin airport in time to catch a helicopter flight he arranged back to Jefferson City; to Maj. C. J. Thompson and his crew for flying me back to Guard headquarters; and to all my Guard family members who have since contributed in a number of ways – visits, words of encouragement, follow-up – to my son’s ongoing recovery – I thank each and every one of you for what you have done.
My son has had nearly a half-dozen surgeries to repair broken bones and other injuries. Spc. Knowles has had many too and is only now getting to come home from the hospital. It’s unclear what the long-term extent and severity of their injuries will be, but both of them face months of rehabilitation. That said, they are both alive and that is the best outcome all of us could have hoped for.
What has made their recovery all the more remarkable was the manner in which it has been facilitated. Yes, I thank the doctors, surgeons, nurses and physical therapists who have all played a major role in tending to Zach. We are in their debt. But I would be remiss not to recognize the fact that the Guard has been with my son and his battle buddies every step of the way – literally – and continues to walk with them today.
The amount, and quality, of the help our families have received from our Guard family is enough to humble even the proudest person. And since we are all extremely proud to be serving that is quite an accomplishment.