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Commanders' chain reaction of kindness

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Abbey Rieves
  • 17th Training Wing Public Affairs

Winter Storm Uri tormented the land as electricity infrastructure failed.

Milk and meat shelves were barren; emptiness crept through grocery stores.

Mail and packages remained undelivered. Cell phone towers and internet providers lost connections.

By the time the storm finished, nearly 80% of Texas was covered in snow, according to online weather reports.

It was like a winter apocalypse happened in a normally sunny West Texas town.

Lt. Col. John Bergmans, 315th Training Squadron commander, described the event as an epic snowstorm. He said, it disrupted nearly the entire base for a little over a week and created a massive local emergency and left thousands of Goodfellow Air Force Base members without food, water, electricity or heat.

“The significance of what people went through was pretty remarkable,” said Bergmans. “No water. No electricity. No way to heat their homes. And COVD-19 still exists. It was like a house of horrors.”

Roads were dangerously covered in ice, water pipes burst from record low temperatures while heavy snowfall wreaked havoc and chaos through the city in a weather phenomenon not seen since the late 1800s.

“It really just became about basic survival for the squadron and frankly, for the whole base,” said Bergmans. “Nearly everyone was affected in some way or another.”

In response to the multitude of compounding emergencies caused from the storm, the 17th Training Group commanders pulled local resources together, utilized community connections to obtain firewood and personally delivered the wood, to ensure the welfare of their people.

“We were really blessed, we were offered to load up as many truckloads of firewood as we needed,” said Bergmans. “So the other commanders, senior staff and I took a chainsaw, sawed a whole bunch of wood, and took it to Airmen all over town.”

In true Goodfellow fashion, amidst the crisis, the 17th TRG commanders chose to lead by example.

“It’s one thing to lead via text message, it’s another thing to physically show up and help people,” said Bergmans. “We wanted to do the latter, because otherwise you can’t effectively lead in a crisis.”

But the squadron commanders weren’t the only members that played their part in helping, as described in The Goodfellow Way, a base priority to connect with wingmen, grow as a person, and go share with others.   

“At a very fundamental level, people actually care about each other,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Sharp, 316th TRS commander. “And once helping each other starts, it creates this chain reaction, people see it and want to do more.”

Kindness rippled across the base and community as joint service members unified into a singular front, helping their fellow military members with whatever resources they had to give.

“It didn’t matter if you were an Airman, Sailor, Marine, Guardian or Soldier,” said Lt. Col. Michael McCourt, 312th TRS commander. “Together, we made sure everyone associated with this base, was taken care of. That’s what we do in the military. We always step up to the challenge and make sure we take care of each other.”

Stepping forward also demonstrates essential core values.

“It’s about service,” said Sharp, who personally delivered supplies to Airmen in need. “In this case, it truly was every single person putting service of the next person before themselves.”

From delivering food and water to sharing their homes, Team Goodfellow banded together and took care of fellow members.

“My apartment lost all electricity and water. It was the same temperature inside as it was outside,” said Airman 1st Class Kara Bailey, 17th Security Forces Squadron installation entry controller. “A wingman took in my whole family, even my dog, for three days. I’m really grateful that I can rely on my Air Force family to help in times of need.”

Military Training Leaders diligently kept in touch with their Airmen.

“They were out, making sure students had everything they needed to get through this event,” said Master Sgt. Kevin Johnson, 312th TRS first sergeant. “We are very fortunate to have dedicated MTLs that came in and took care of our Airmen in the dorms, especially during this crisis.”

The 17th Medical Group opened its building to house displaced members, the Mathis Fitness Center provided showers, the Taylor Chapel offered recreation, and the Angelo Inn and dorms sheltered additional personnel.

Members delivered milk to people they had never met before, individuals with four-wheel drive vehicles transported strangers to medical appointments and an anonymous source delivered several bundles of wood to the base chapel.

“People were doing it out of the goodness of their heart,” said McCourt. “It wasn’t because of the mission, it was because they wanted to help their fellow Airmen, friends, and families.” 

In trying times, examples like these prove that individual’s best character can shine through even the most unprecedented of storms.

Firewood secured and donated from a local community member is packed into a vehicle in San Angelo, Texas, Feb. 15, 2021. The 17th Training Group commanders and base members worked together and delivered wood to families without power so they could heat their homes. (Courtesy photo)

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