For 24 hours straight, wave after wave of buses leave Parris Island, South Carolina to drive the 250 miles to Albany, Georgia. These buses carry 6,000 Marine recruits from boot camp to Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany so they can continue their training uninterrupted even in the face of a natural disaster. This is the protocol every time a mandatory evacuation is declared for Parris Island, and the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society is always an integral part of the evacuation process.
When a hurricane is bearing down, air stations focus on removing planes and ports send ships out to sea. At Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, they move recruits, along with the drill instructors and support personnel necessary for training. “We are very fortunate that our leadership on Parris Island sees the crucial role that the Society plays during a disaster,” explained NMCRS Parris Island Director Christy Brown. “The base leadership ensures that I’m included on the crisis management team that meets daily leading up to a storm hitting or being called off. They recognize a lot of our personnel have to go to Albany with the recruits and that leaves families behind. Permanent personnel are allowed to use their government credit cards. Family members are not, so that’s where we step in to help.”
Whether they’re on Parris Island or in Albany, recruits are expected to adhere to the rigorous training schedule required throughout the 13 weeks of boot camp. This means their instructors must always be completely mission focused, and not worried about their families who are evacuating elsewhere. NMCRS provides checks or debit cards to these families to ensure that they can safely travel inland and pay for food and lodging.
About 150 miles south along the coast from Parris Island is Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, in Kings Bay, Georgia. When it looked like Hurricane Dorian was heading straight for the Georgia coast, Governor Brian Kemp declared a mandatory evacuation for residents of all coastal counties as of noon on Tuesday, September 3.
“We got word of the evacuation Sunday night—September 1— and I posted on Facebook that we would open the office the following day to offer emergency evacuation assistance,” recalled NMCRS Kings Bay Director Megan O’Connell. “I sent an email to my team asking if they could come in the following day— which was Labor Day—to help. My entire crew came in and worked like a well-oiled machine. I was so proud of my team!”
When Megan and her volunteers arrived at 9am, people were already waiting in the parking lot for the doors to open at 10am. The team organized as quickly as possible to let people in before 10. “When my staff pulled into the parking lot, everyone started clapping,” O’Connell said.
She set up a line with six people writing checks for emergency evacuation assistance. Over the course of the day, the office served 163 clients and distributed nearly $100,000 in evacuation loans. Nobody had to wait more than five minutes to receive their check.
“Because we had the experience with Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Irma, it couldn’t have gone any better. Unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of practice with this, but fortunately we are able to work really efficiently to serve our clients,” O’Connell said.
In the days leading up to the evacuation and throughout the storm, which thankfully did not hit Georgia or South Carolina hard, O’Connell and Brown were in close contact. NMCRS Albany, a limited service office, is under O’Connell’s purview, but recruits and personnel from Parris Island were on base there. Brown volunteered to serve as liaison between Parris Island base leadership and O’Connell.
“We were fortunate that we weren’t directly hit,” Brown said. “I returned to the office right away and did not have to go into recovery mode. But if it were a situation where I needed to return for recovery, our base leadership realizes the critical role that NMCRS plays in recovery. They’ve provided me with the designation of essential personnel so I can have early access back on base to provided assistance as soon as possible. Being part of the hurricane briefs, exercises, and critical management team has been beneficial as an NMCRS director as it has helped me help our families.”
The Society is able to respond with prompt, effective assistance to clients devastated by natural disasters thanks to thoughtful and generous donors. Your support is critical to our success.
By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso