Like everyone who serves in the National Guard, Master Sgt. Matthew Jordan is accustomed to “the call” in all its variations. It could come in the form of a two-month advanced notice that he’ll be deployed to Afghanistan. Other times, the notice is far shorter. Last August, he was told to report for duty in one hour to respond to Hurricane Harvey.
Jordan was closely monitoring news reports as Labor Day was approaching. The hurricane made landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast on August 25. Jordan was keeping in touch with his father, who decided to ride out the storm in his Houston home. His father’s home didn’t suffer much damage, and after a few days of not getting “the call,” Jordan and his wife were beginning to make plans for the long Labor Day weekend. On Thursday before the holiday, he heard his division would not be called up. The next day, while watching SportsCenter, his supervisor called him.
“I had to say goodbye to my kids on the phone, kiss my wife, and I was out the door,” Jordan says.
Last fall, the Nebraska National Guard was repeatedly called up to respond to hurricanes Harvey and Maria. Jordan was part of a 44-person medical team that was sent to Texas. The mission lasted about 10 days. For the first few days, Jordan says he braced himself to be called out on a mission that would never materialize.
“You get adrenaline, and that mission would fall apart,” Jordan says.
Jordan ended up staying in a hotel in Beaumont, Texas. He eventually moved to a church near the city of Vidor, which is located in extreme southeast Texas, close to the Louisiana border. Around the fifth day of his deployment, he finally got his orders: set up two tents and provide medical care to the storm victims.
Over two-and-a-half days, Jordan estimated his team treated about 180 patients. The majority of those were treated for pharmacy-related problems. Most of the pharmacies in the area were still shut down, and people were running out of their medications. Jordan was in charge of getting water and coordinating medical supply deliveries. During this time, he was running on about four hours of sleep a night. Finding a place to shower was oftentimes a challenge because many places still didn’t have running water.
“It was so hot and humid. I cannot describe what an armpit that place was,” Jordan says.
During his mission, Jordan was stopped by a man who had just moved to Beaumont from Chicago. The man had moved his wife and two children into a house two weeks before the hurricane hit town. His entire house had flooded, and his family was living out of his car.
“Helping him out meant the most,” Jordan says. “I felt really bad for him, because I have a wife and three kids.”
The National Hurricane Center estimates that at least 68 people died in Texas due to Harvey. The conservative death toll for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico stands at 64, but there are estimates that hundreds of people have lost their lives from that storm’s aftereffects.
Capt. Cody Cade was deployed along with Staff Sgt. Koan Nissen to document the National Guard’s response to Maria in Puerto Rico. Like Jordan, Cade was called up quickly. He had just returned from a week of training in Fort Riley, Kansas.
“I literally walked through the door to my house, put my rucksack down on the floor, and the phone rang,” he says.
Cade and Nissen headed to Puerto Rico almost two months after the hurricane made landfall. When he arrived at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, Cade noticed most all of the airport’s ceiling tiles were missing from where he could see. He also noticed an exodus of people waiting to leave.
“It was just mass chaos,” Cade says. “There were thousands of people waiting to get on a plane.”
While thousands were still trying to leave, Cade and Nissen were going inland. In 28 days, the two interviewed 70 people, took about 2,000 photographs, and traveled almost 1,600 miles. While traveling, Cade says the roads were still filled with debris. In one case, his team came across a bridge that had been washed out. No one from the Army Corps of Engineers had yet identified the bridge was gone, Cade says.
Cade primarily stuck with interviewing National Guard members—one of whom had lost her niece, born prematurely shortly before Hurricane Maria hit. Then, she lost her grandfather from medical complications because of the storm. Her grandfather was recovering from a heart attack in a hospital. The hospital he was staying at had lost both its main power and backup generators.
“She had not taken any time off from the hurricane whatsoever,” Cade says.
All of Cade’s interviews are now at the U.S. Army Center of Military History in Washington D.C. They will be transcribed, and later will be made into a book, detailing the relief efforts.
After returning to Nebraska, Cade says it felt like he was visiting another country: “It’s a shock to see a portion of the United States could be just devastated in such a manner. Stuff was just wiped off the face of the planet.”
He sees it as one big “family” coming together “to help our own.”
Visit ne.ng.mil for more information about the Nebraska National Guard.
This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.