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American Homefront

When Military Families Are in Harm's Way

Bobbie O'Brien
WUSF Public Media

Members of the military usually deploy into hazardous situations and their families remain safe at home. This week, it was reversed. Blame Hurricane Sandy.

Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base became the temporary home to military aircraft and critical mission units moved out of Sandy’s path. But, many of the military families stayed behind. That was the case for members of the 621st Contingency Response Wing from joint base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in central New Jersey.

Air Force Captain Brian Cooper is a maintenance officer, crew commander and a New Jersey native. Sandy is not his first hurricane.

“Ironically, last Hurricane Irene, my wife and I had just gotten a puppy and we sent her and the dog up to New York with her family so they were all together and safe,” Cooper said.

Recently returned from a base in Japan, Master Sergeant Matthew Chapel said he was unsure about New Jersey’s capabilities to deal with a hurricane. So, his wife traveled south to stay with her parents in Titusville.

“My wife is from Florida,” said Chapel. “So, we’ve had experience with that also we came from Okinawa, so we had typhoons over there.”

Many in the 621st , like C-17 pilot Major David Gaulin, went through the same experience last year when Hurricane Irene came ashore.

Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
The C-17 Globemaster is considered the

“ I have a wife and a 2-1/2-year-old daughter. They went out of state,” Gaulin said. “My grandparents fortunately live in Lake George, NY about a five-hour drive. So, little Clara got a surprise visit with Gram and Poppy.”

Gaulin and many of the crew were keeping in touch using social media and smart phones.

Tech Sergeant Parker Gyokeres pulled out his phone to show a video his wife had sent of their backyard – a potted plant swaying in the stiff breeze. That was before the storm came ashore.

While it helps to stay in touch, Capt. Cooper admits it still was difficult leaving his wife who is 20 weeks pregnant.

“For me that’s tough, but my wife’s strong,” Cooper said with a boyish smile. “We buttoned up the house and we know if there’s anything to go wrong the unit, the team, the Air Force, they’ll take care of our families.”

Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
Capt. Brian Cooper is a maintenance officer, crew commander and native of New Jersey.

That was a consistent theme from all the members of the 621st. that their fellow would take care of their own in the military family.

Tech Sergeant Karen Blackburn added that civilians help too. Her husband is military, so if he gets called to the base, their next door neighbors will care for their 2-1/2-year-old daughter

“We couldn’t do our job without our family or neighbors or friends that help us out,” Blackburn said.

The 621st Contingency Response Wing team returned to New Jersey Wednesday. Their military installation had some fallen trees, minor flooding and spot power outages, however the joint base is being used for Federal Emergency Management Agency operations.

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