NEW YORK – “I never thought I’d see the Army in my neighborhood,” said Chris Holland, as she watched the Soldiers operating from the back of a large truck parked in the middle of the street. “Never ever in a million years. It’s amazing. I never thought I’d see a disaster of this size. I never imagined that my neighborhood would flood … four feet of water; all these cars were underwater.”
The Soldiers that the residents of Gerritsen Beach in New York City’s Brooklyn borough were looking at was a joint squad from the Massachusetts Army National Guard’s 772nd Military Police Company, 211th MP Battalion and Soldiers from various units of the New York Army National Guard. The Guardsmen were delivering 10,300 bottles of water, 1,080 meals and 2800 blankets to the Gerritsen Beach Volunteer Fire Department and a local club that were being used as distribution points for the relief supplies. Besides the supplies the Guardsmen brought something else, a sense of reassurance.
“It makes us feel good, it makes us feel safe,” said Holland, “It feels good to have the support; we’re all feeling overwhelmed and in shock from what happened.”
Seeing the Guardsmen in the neighborhood brought many waves, thumbs up, handshakes and “thank yous” from the residents.
“They were just very thankful and appreciative for what we were doing … coming down there … said Staff Sgt. Christopher Willis, a military policeman, 1st Platoon, 772nd MP Co., “just being there, kind of like a shoulder and a reassurance that they’re not forgotten and that their being helped … people like us and our country care about them.”
For many of the Guardsmen from both states, responding to disasters in order to help their neighbors is part of why they joined the Guard.
“It’s our second mission as Guardsmen,” said Sgt. 1st Class Paul Reis, platoon sergeant, 1st platoon, 772nd MP Co., “it’s not all running and gunning … you have to help out your community … especially these people. There’s just trash everywhere … the water level was three, four feet high; cars were moved all over the place from the flood tides … it’s just good to help them out.”
All the supplies that were distributed today were done by hand, there was not one piece of machinery used, just the Soldiers and a few first responders at each distribution point.
If you listened to the Soldiers while they listen to the residents talk about the storm that ripped through their neighborhood you would never know that some of these troops are dealing with some of the same issues at their own homes.
“I’m in the same boat right now,” said Willis, who is married with two young children, “I have no power, I haven’t seen my house. I haven’t been home since the storm hit and I wouldn’t have any power until next week. I’m constantly trying to find a place to house my family to make sure that they are safe and they are ok. I know how they [the New Yorkers he met] feel about being displaced. My wife texts me everyday telling me how proud she is and what we are doing is good.”
This was something that bound these Massachusetts and New York Guardsmen together.
“It hurts, this is home for me,” said Capt. Rafael Castillo, commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 2nd Squadron, 101 Calvary Regiment, N.Y. Army National Guard, “To see people in need … it’s why I joined the Guard.”
“It was pretty devastating, pretty overwhelming to see your neighbors suffering,” said Staff Sgt Thomas Church, 106th Regional Training Institute, NYARNG and a resident of NYC, “It’s heart breaking … you can’t remove yourself from it. There [are] no barriers, these are your friends … these are your neighbors and you feel what they feel. I’m very proud to do what we do. This is what we train for and this is not what we hope for, but we are ready if we have to do it.”
“It was like working with a couple of brothers, it really was,” said Church, “we are so happy to have them. They really cared about what they were doing.”
A perfect example of this is what happened at the end of the firehouse supply drop.
“Staff Sgt. Willis carried some baked bread, some fresh baked bread all the way from Massachusetts and he delivered it,” said Church, “That was fantastic. Now you know that the guy cares.”
It was banana bread that one of the Soldiers in the 772nd MP Co. had baked.
“People go through hard times; we’ve all been there at some point in our lives … you know how it feels when your backs against the wall,” said Willis, “Homemade banana bread … something from home to their home … goes a long way.”
There is an old saying that the Guard is neighbors helping neighbors.
“Instant friends,” said Church, “When push comes to shove we’re here for them and they’ve proved today that they have our backs.”