Cannon volunteers give a hand, hope to city in wake of disaster

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- More than 500 Airmen from Cannon AFB have assisted Clovis, N.M., residents in storm clean up. A tornado hit the town, located six miles east of the base, March 23 leaving homes, property and businesses in ruin. Airmen will continue to assist in clean up efforts on an individual basis through the "Airmen for an Afternoon" program. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Thomas Trower)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- More than 500 Airmen from here have helped Clovis, N.M., residents with cleanup after a tornado hit the town March 23. Located six miles east of the base, Clovis is dealing with ruined homes, property and businesses. Airmen will continue to assist in cleanup efforts on an individual basis through the "Airmen for an Afternoon" program. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Thomas Trower)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Senior Airman Sarah Lunt, 27th Logistics Readiness Squadron moves a section of roofing into a trash pile while cleaning up tornado damage in Clovis, N.M., March 25. More than 500 volunteers began restoring Clovis, N.M., located six miles east of Cannon AFB, after tornadoes swept through the town March 23. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Heather Redman)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Senior Airman Sarah Lunt, 27th Logistics Readiness Squadron, moves a section of roofing into a trash pile while cleaning up tornado damage in Clovis, N.M., March 25. More than 500 volunteers began restoring the town, located six miles east of the base, after tornadoes swept through the town March 23. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Heather Redman)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Staff Sgt. Gerri Finan loads up the arms of Master Sgt. Eric Butt with scrap wood from piles of debris. These 27th Communications Squadron Airmen were part of a group of Cannon AFB who assisted in the clean up of Yucca Junior High March 26 in Clovis, N.M. More than 500 volunteers began restoring Clovis, located six miles east of Cannon AFB, after tornadoes swept through the town March 23. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Randi Flaugh)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Staff Sgt. Gerri Finan loads the arms of Master Sgt. Eric Butt with scrap wood from piles of debris. These 27th Communications Squadron Airmen were part of a group from here who assisted in the cleanup of Yucca Junior High March 26 in Clovis, N.M. More than 500 volunteers began restoring Clovis, located six miles east of the base, after tornadoes swept through the town March 23. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Randi Flaugh)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Staff Sgt. Obed Brown, 27th Component Maintenance Squadron, feeds a dog made stray by a tornado that struck Clovis, N.M., March 23. More than 500 volunteers began restoring Clovis, located 6 miles east of Cannon AFB, after tornadoes swept through the town March 23. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. George Tobias)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Staff Sgt. Obed Brown, 27th Component Maintenance Squadron, feeds a dog made stray by a tornado that struck Clovis, N.M., March 23. More than 500 volunteers began restoring Clovis, located six miles east of here, after tornadoes swept through the town March 23. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. George Tobias)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Senior Airman Christine O?Donnell, 27th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, clears out tumbleweeds during the Cannon AFB clean up efforts March 25. More than 500 volunteers began restoring Clovis, N.M., located six miles east of Cannon AFB, after tornadoes swept through the town March 23. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. George Tobias)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Senior Airman Christine O'Donnell, 27th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, clears out tumbleweeds during the base's clean up efforts March 25. More than 500 volunteers began restoring Clovis, N.M., located six miles east of here, after tornadoes swept through the town March 23. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. George Tobias)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- A tornado tore through Clovis, N.M. at approximately 7:45 p.m., March 23, leaving destruction and devastation in its wake for many Clovis residents.
The tornado was one of 13 confirmed tornadoes that thundered across the eastern New Mexico plains that night according to James Kratzer, a meteorologist from the 27th Operations Support Squadron. 

"We began to prepare for the stormy weather Friday afternoon," said Mr. Kratzer. Base meteorologists then issued severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings. 

Though Cannon was unscathed, nearby Clovis was not. The storm destroyed or damaged approximately 400 homes and businesses. Volunteers from Cannon gathered Sunday morning to assist with clean up efforts. 

Since then, the numbers have increased to more than 500 Airmen, family members and civil service employees, all from Cannon, devoted to assisting their New Mexico neighbors in cleaning up their town. 

After throwing the splintered remnants of what was once a porch roof into a dump truck, Senior Airman Donald Davis, 27th Logistics Readiness Squadron, said, "After being stationed at Cannon for three years, Clovis is almost like a second home. This is a chance to repay the community for the support they have given Cannon over the years." 

The 27th LRS has been operating in overdrive since Sunday, providing transportation to and from the parts of the city most heavily affected by the storms. 

The initial focus was to remove the debris left by the storm as quickly as possible. The mission was to "clean up, pick up debris and do whatever the homeowners needed to to put their lives together," said Col. Robert West, 27th Maintenance Group commander. 

Two buses that ran all day Sunday were flanked by an additional four when even more volunteers arrived Monday. 

Airmen provided more than just muscle and sweat, however. Personal vehicles loaded with chainsaws and weed eaters followed the blue convoy east from the base to the damage sites. They were met by more blue heavy equipment, such as dump trucks and front-end loaders, also sent from Cannon. 

"[Monday] about 20 people who said they were from Cannon stopped and asked my mother-in-law and father-in-law if they could use assistance cleaning up," said Brenda Brady. 

Ms. Brady, a Clovis resident, had plenty of praise for the base's support efforts. "My husband, who has limited mobility, and his brother were trying their best to assist their elderly parents. Our entire family is so grateful for the help of these men and women," she said. 

The gratitude expressed by Clovis residents who looked at piles of shingles and shards of glass scattered over what was once their home had a single theme; the help Cannon Airmen provided gave hope and faith that it is possible to rebuild and recover from such a devastating setback. 

A parade of Cannon volunteers traveled door-to-door as they swept across the city. What would have taken a family a month to clean up, Cannon volunteers helped clear in mere hours. The cleaning crews, like a reverse tornado, made the city blocks recognizable once again. 

Due to the long-term effect a clean up effort this size required, Col. Scott West, 27th Fighter Wing commander, implemented the "Airmen for an Afternoon" program which will provide homeowners their very own team of Cannon volunteers to come to their residence to provide extra assistance. 

"Tornado victims can call the base at (505) 784-4228 to get individual help from Airmen volunteers," said Colonel Scott West. "'Airmen for an Afternoon' is geared toward an individual property, home or business owner who needs four or so Airmen to help finish tornado-related work." 

"We are not a separate entity, we are part of the community and we want to give back to the community that has shown such staunch, unwavering support of this base and its Airmen," said Colonel Scott West. "As long as our community needs a hand, we're here to offer it."