THANKFUL FOR HIS AIR NATIONAL FAMILY

By Senior Airman Jay Ostrich, 193rd Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. (AFPN) 7/27/2004 — Devastating, catastrophic, tragic and unfair may be words used by insurance companies and journalists to describe a tornado July 14, but you will not hear them uttered by Senior Master Sgt. John Stewart - who scoffs at such notions, despite losing his home to a tornado packing winds of up to 200 mph.

A week later, the193rd Special Operations Wing information assurance specialist gazed at the mess that was once his home on a sleepy suburb street in Campbelltown. He took a deep breath and confidently described himself as blessed, overwhelmed with joy and thankful for his Air National Guard family.

What Sergeant Stewart saw was not the destruction, but hope and salvation in the form of 85 of his fellow Airmen who volunteered to take portions of their leave over a two-day period to help the Stewart family sweep up the pieces of their home and pickup their bruised but unbroken spirits.

“The Guard has been as much a part of my family since 1981,” said a smiling Sergeant Stewart who worked as an aircraft mechanic on EC-130 Commando Solo aircraft for 19 years. “It humbles me to think that just because I am a member of the Guard, people are willing to put aside their own family’s needs just to come and help us.”

Volunteering to help people in need is just what the wing and the Guard is accustomed to doing, said Sabrina Lengner, the wing’s family readiness group president. “We all have a job to do at the wing and sometimes we step on one another’s toes while doing that,” said Ms. Lengner with a smile. “But we gladly put that aside and rush to someone in need. It’s a family thing now, and we are going to take care of one of our own.”

Cleanup day began with Sergeant Stewart jokingly welcoming everyone to his “humble abode” and retelling the story of the family’s loss. He told how his wife, Jamie, was still hospitalized and recovering from several injuries. She had scrambled to get the daughter Naomi, 14, and son Jonathan, 11, to the basement while her husband was still at work.

“The Guard has been as much a part of my family since 1981,” said a smiling Sergeant Stewart who worked as an aircraft mechanic on EC-130 Commando Solo aircraft for 19 years. “It humbles me to think that just because I am a member of the Guard, people are willing to put aside their own family’s needs just to come and help us.”

After the storm passed, Jonathan came upstairs to find his mother badly injured. Thinking quickly, he ran to get help and call 911. His daughter dutifully stayed behind with her mother and held her hand until paramedics arrived at the scene. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of my two children,” said Stewart. “My wife and I never taught them to do that, but I guess we must be doing something right.”

After relating the tale, Airmen quickly went to work demolishing toilets, sawing tangled webs of wooden framing and throwing debris of every imaginable size and shape into a 30-foot dumpster. Within 15 minutes of starting, the dumpster was filled and Sergeant Stewart was searching for another receptacle.

“That’s no surprise — these people always work hard,” said Sergeant Stewart, who was amazed that even people he had never met before had come out to help him.

“We have traveled the world together, ate together, slept together, fought together and smelled together,” Sergeant Stewart mused. “I guess this is what comes about when you share all these things.”

Sergeant Stewart said he and his family plan to rebuild an identical model home on the exact same piece of land, but he intends to make a few improvements along the way and he is looking forward to having some of his fellow Airmen back someday.

“We are so blessed to be a part of this Guard family,” said Sergeant Stewart. “This is just so overwhelming. I am a very lucky man.”