12/12/05 — Military hurricane victims find help at Seymour Johnson AFB

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Military hurricane victims find help at Seymour Johnson AFB

By Turner Walston
Published in News on December 12, 2005 1:49 PM

Just before Hurricane Katrina hit Mississippi, Daniel and Roberta Grantham were forced to evacuate. Grantham, 53, a retired techincal sergeant in the Air Force, was living in Biloxi near Keesler Air Force Base. Having been stationed at Seymour Johnson in the late 1970s, he knew he could find shelter here.

Airmen, their families and retired service members who depend on the Keesler community had to be relocated when Katrina hit. Some of them came to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

"We pretty much assessed the needs of evacuees when they arrived at Seymour Johnson," said Richard Lambert, community readiness consultant with the base's Family Support Center. "From there, we were able to connect them with support systems and programs both on and off base that would meet their needs."

For the Granthams, the Family Support Center helped them find some sense of normalcy.

"They lost basically everything they owned in the Biloxi area," Lambert said.

In the haste of evacuation, Mrs. Grantham forgot her dentures. "We connected her with Affordable Dentures. She got free dentures," Lambert said.

Grantham himself damaged his glasses. "Through the Red Cross, they referred us to an optometrist in the area that gave him an eye exam and new glasses," Lambert said.

Resources employed by the Family Support Center included Air Force Aid, the official charity of the Air Force.

"They exist to provide emergency relief. We provided the family additional financial assistance to meet their basic living needs such as food and shelter."

Another base charity is Airman's Attic. There, evacuees could get free clothing, household items, some furniture and appliances in a thrift-store format.

"Everything over there is free, and in a routine sense it's there for our younger enlisted families, unless there is an extreme situation," Lambert said.

The Granthams were able to get some clothes from Airman's Attic.

"My wife and I were both living out of bags, so to speak. It wasn't a planned thing like we were going to visit with a suitcase," Grantham said.

Help didn't just come from on-base.

"We got a lot of calls saying 'What can I do to help?'" Lambert said.

One woman offered the use of two of her bedrooms. Another offered free child care to evacuees.

The Family Support Center aided some indirectly. Lambert even helped relocate a family he never met.

One retired military couple made reservations at Seymour Johnson from Mississippi. They never made it, so Lambert called the lodging office.

"They heard that we had a storm heading this direction, and they basically headed to Texas to reach safe haven," Lambert said.

He said the couple were in San Antonio but had not connected with services there.

"I put them in contact with the name and number of who to talk to at Lackland, and made sure they had the assistance they were eligible to receive through the Air Force down there."

Several active-duty airmen from Keesler spent uncertain time at Seymour Johnson in the aftermath of Katrina. Some were scheduled for assignment here at a later date, but training was cut short.

Lambert said the local chapters of the American Red Cross and Salvation Army were helpful and accommodating. "I give high accolades on behalf of the base for them. Our local people did really good work."

Between airmen, their families and retired military, Lambert said the Family Support Center has helped about 35 evacuees.

One airman stayed at Keesler while his family evacuated to Seymour Johnson.

In line at the base's gas station, the family recognized Daniel and Roberta Grantham.

"That connected the two families together, so they could have someone to identify with personally and locally," Lambert said. "It's kind of a small world."

Grantham is unsure of the future. His home is severely damaged, and aid from federal authorities and insurance agencies has been slow.

"I'm sure that when I return home, my wife and I both will be in for a great shock," he said. Still, he's appreciative of the efforts here at Seymour Johnson. We've been blessed."