Note from the Chief Editor:
Joseph is more than a talented writer, he’s an every day hero. The Article Asylum family is just that: a family. As such, Joseph is our brother and we are immensely proud of him. His own modesty and sense of humility would forbid this inclusion to his article and as his editor I agree. As his friend, however, I find it worthwhile to recognize his character for what it is: that of a hero. On behalf of Article Asylum: Thank you for your service Joseph, you are a real-world Superman.
Trash was everywhere. Both sides of the street were filled with belongings, furniture, and sheetrock, waiting for a hopelessly overworked city garbage crew to clean. We pulled into the driveway of the house we were to clean – theirs was no different.
It was nice to see some people kept their humor during this time.It was difficult to imagine beforehand how much destruction hurricane Harvey was going to wreak in Houston. I remember watching it on the news as I was walking into work a few days before it hit. It was a hundred miles away, still a category 4, looming over Houston. I saw again a couple days later as it slowed its approach. Then it hit. I watched it on TV again; only this time on the screen at the Texas Air National Guard base in Grand Prairie where I drill monthly. During the Sunday afternoon briefing, our commander told us to be prepared for a call. Start packing for the inevitable.
And to be honest, originally I prayed not to get that call. I recently moved to a new place, was in the middle of writing a new article, and work had been busy. I didn’t want to be interrupted. I wanted to be left alone. I wanted to live my life without being intruded. I had so many things going I didn’t want to put on hold to help others. In a word, I was being selfish. I was in sin. Then God brought to mind something one of my friends, Chris Ramos, told me a few years ago from a book he read; notice how often Christ was interrupted in the four Gospel accounts of His life. Take note of how He responds. He stops. He listens. He goes. So often I willingly forget about God’s sovereign design and purpose for my life. Sometimes I drift into thinking I’m in control of it; I make my choices, and can effect change in my situations – but God used a simple phone call that took me from Commerce to Houston in a matter of days. He used a single piece of paper with Governor Greg Abbott’s signature to change my sleeping arrangement from a cushy bed in my apartment to a noisy, uncomfortable cot 300 miles away.
I pulled up to the base in Grand Prairie at noon on a Wednesday. I was nervous, but I had called plenty of friends and family to ask for prayer for me and our unit the previous night. I walked into base and got changed into my ABUs and soon got to work. A day went by of packing and waiting. Several members of the squadron received calls overnight telling them to pack their bags. A team was to head out tomorrow and help build shelters to house the refugees coming from Houston. I wasn’t one of them. So I waited some more, and helped one of my friends get his items in order. The following morning though, we got the call.
The ‘Three Amigos’, Hernandez, me, and Simpkins, before one of the worst convoys I’ve been on.Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in Southeast Houston needed communication assistance. A team of us were tasked to drive down in a convoy to help restore communication to a few buildings. That convoy down was one for the history books. After two flat tires in the heat of the day, and a special police convoy from the Buccee’s in Madisonville to Ellington Field, we were there in record time. And by record time I mean turning a seven hour convoy into a 14 hour nightmare riding in a tactical vehicle that bounced you around more than the Texas Giant in 90 plus degree weather. Some of the other Airmen who had been deployed said this was worse than the convoys there were in while in Iraq. That’s saying something. But, we made it there safely and mostly sound to the base, ready to hit the cots and wake up the following morning to do what we had come to do.
Combat Comms is essentially 24 hours of excitement and hard work, and the rest, well, have you ever seen the show the “IT Crowd”? If you have then that’s the other 90 percent of Combat Comms. A lot of waiting around for stuff to happen, then it happens and you scramble to take care of it. Rinse and repeat. After several days there helping to restore communications, we were able to go off base to do some help clearing out houses.
Her name was Rebecca, and she lived with her husband a few miles off base. She retired from the Texas Army National Guard and had her home and entire neighborhood flooded. The neighborhood was blocked by police; looters had come recently, disguised as people trying to help – they had taken what they could sell and left the rest. My blood boiled. We showed them our ID’s and they allowed us in. The drive to her house was sobering. Piles of trash and treasures littered each house on our way to her house. We pulled up and she greeted us with a smile as we told her we were here to help. We would walk around her house, bagging clothes that weren’t soggy and throwing away the ones that were. The mold had begun to form in her closet area along with any carpeted room. As a retired soldier, she was organized – a hat rack for each hat she’d collected over the years and individual boxes for each of her many shoes; she was way more organized than I’d ever hope or want to be.
Rebecca, her husband, and a few of us who had volunteered and were able to help that day.She would lead us along telling us which possession to save and which to throw away. A microphone used by Michael Jackson she had purchased, she said she’d try and save. A seat from the old Astrodome was also on the “to save” list. “It probably smells the same as it did when at the Astrodome,” her nephew joked. She walked around the garage, pointing out where she needed the items placed, shuffling around in her walker – something she was using after her recent knee surgery. She’d laugh about an item she saw then proceed to get choked up and cry the next, I imagine still processing the amount of destruction leveled on her house and the memories contained within.
After several hours and a lunch break at Rudy’s for some good bbq sandwiches, our job was complete. A picture, a few hugs and goodbyes later, and we drove back to base, now feeling the weight of the impact Harvey had on Houston.
Being that far south meant I was able to witness a beautiful sunrise each morning.The rest of the time there flew by. I finished reading the new Teen Titans Rebirth graphic novel “Damian Knows Best” my fellow Airman and friend Jared Simpkins let me borrow. It was a pretty good read. I’d usually walk around with that, my journal, and my Bible after shift. I’d read a little, talk and joke around, then hit the cot. Simpkins is fairly new to the unit, but we quickly became friends. Me, Simpkins, and Hernandez have been labeled by a few of the Sergeants as the “three amigos.” We’re in the same shop, like most of the same things, and usually get tasked together. It’s nice being able to like the people you work with, because sometimes the work can be grueling and just downright demanding. Simpkins had began reading the Bible again, working through Genesis, so we were able to have some nice conversations. He was watching YouTube videos over Genesis by The Bible Project – a great resource for people wanting to know more about the Bible. We’d pass the time talking about that, comic books, and Coldplay, in that order.
Small things help pass the time during 24/7 ops. Rigging up two Styrofoam cups and a toilet paper roll into a makeshift stereo is one of them. Blasting ”Yellow” by Coldplay and “kicking out” any Sergeants who don’t like the band. After our shift it was the same – find ways to pass the time. There wasn’t much in the way of entertainment, but we made do. We’d go over to the BX (shopping center) or the USO and eat and watch part of the terrible Pixels movie. I made it 20 minutes before I had to walk out. (Please, Adam Sandler, go back to your 90s movies. We miss that version of you). Other than that, it was joke around, play poker, and get some reading in before bed. And that’s the life of 24 hour ops.
A few days later we were told our mission was complete; we were packing up and heading home the next day. It’s odd that in so short a time you can get used to something. Sleeping on hard cots in a room of 30 other men, 12 hour workdays, waiting around in a big bathroom for your turn to shower, split shifts for a quick bite to eat, and other structured, distinctly military verbiage used to tell you when and where to eat, sleep, and work. I had dreaded going, longed to leave, yet missed – and still do sometimes – the structure, the camaraderie of “embracing the suck” as is so often used in the military. But it was our time to go.
It was our last night in Houston. The convoy was scheduled to head out early the next morning. Some are drinking and watching the Patriots game or playing poker; a Sergeant sits at the breakroom table smirking, FaceTiming his wife as she teaches their kids to pray. A few are still out at a restaurant off base. And the rest of us are in our brand new and extremely noisy cots, trying to be as still and silent as possible so as not to wake the ones already fallen asleep. It had felt as if I’d been there for much longer – months even – it was almost as I was in a dreamscape, in-between conciseness expecting at any moment to wake up and realize I’d never even been gone. But I was there, and I was ready to go home.
The next morning we headed out and hit the ground running, then hit the ground. Yet another tactical vehicle was having problems. But thankfully we weren’t stranded in the middle of Houston for too long. Our able vehicle personnel were able to get it up and running, and we were on our way. A mandatory stop at the Buccee’s in Madisonville, and one more flat tire just because it’s not a convoy unless there’s at least one, and we made it home.
I got back to my apartment around 5p.m. I dropped my bags in the doorway, took off my boots and ABU’s, then proceeded to walk upstairs and plop my weary body in bed; but not before thanking God for allowing me to serve in this small way.
I didn’t know at the time, but I was going to be returning with my church to Houston the following weekend. But that tale is for next story, Lord willing.