Story by Patricia Kemp, Communications Manager, American Red Cross
Photo by Jennifer Heisler, Regional Communications Officer, American Red Cross Palmetto SC Region
As flood waters began to rise in South Carolina, U. S. Navy Officer Travis Akers packed his bags like he was heading into combat. On a mission to help, he recruited his Navy buddies, Lt. Zachary Bowen and Lt. Robert Council. The trio made the four-hour trek from their Jacksonville, Florida base to Travis’ home state. By early afternoon, they had boots on the ground in the Lowcountry, working with the Red Cross.
“On the first day in the field, my team visited low-income, impoverished neighborhoods. The water line on the homes and cars was a clear indication of severe damage most personal property had been lost. The hardest hit area I observed was in West Ashley, where several homes had upwards of five feet of water inside. We saw families removing debris from their homes and even spoke to one gentleman who had removed several fish from his garage. The city was pumping water out of the neighborhoods as quickly as I've ever seen in emergency flooding responses.
I’m from South Carolina and the Palmetto State has always been my heart's home. It was easy to make the trip being stationed only four hours away in Jacksonville, and our command staff gave us the opportunity to leave work for several days to assist the Red Cross. We make financial donations to the Red Cross, but I knew I had to return home and help out those in need, South Carolina has already experienced so much pain this year.
One thing that I always bring back with me from these experiences are the stories of those affected by tragedy. I met an elderly lady, probably in her 70s, from the French Quarter Creek area. She was in a dress that you would envision a Sunday School teacher wearing in an old country church, flowery, ankle-length, but covered in dirt and drywall. She told me the home had been her father's. When her father passed, she couldn't bear to leave, it was all she knew and had lived there her entire life. Now destroyed, it would most likely be demolished. I expected her to be angry or deeply saddened, but she still displayed joy and gratitude for everything else she had in life - her church family and healthy grandchildren. I was deeply touched by her ability to maintain such a bright and positive outlook on life.
That’s what I got out of this experience. It wasn't just being able to help my home state, but to find sunshine in a place that had been shadowed by clouds and drowned by storms. I was able to bring some of that sunshine back with me when we returned to our base.”
The America Red Cross has a long, proud history of service to the armed forces with programs that support military members, veterans and their families. Thank you, Travis, for your service to the Red Cross and our country.