Jonathan Raab’s first piece introduces a new kind of guest post for MilSuccessNet readers – veterans talking to veterans. As readers, we are privileged with special insights as a result of their shared service experiences.
Welcome to writer, Jonathan Raab and appreciation to Corey Christian. This story covers the private, post deployment challenges as Christian and his family recover and rebuild from the damage of a public event monitored by millions – the life changing effects of Hurricane Sandy.
Raab’s blog post aligns with MilSuccessNet’s operating principles – H.U.A – providing a forum and resources so that military men and women are HEARD, UNDERSTOOD and ACKNOWLEDGED.
Please add your comments and share your experience. Now, on to this candid and powerful interview out of New York state.
One Veteran rebuilds after deployment and Hurricane Sandy
by Jonathan Raab
Specialist Corey Christian was about ten months into his first overseas deployment when he learned his home had been destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.
A combat medic originally assigned to the Fighting 69th Infantry Regiment, he expected a tour filled with its share of challenges and hardships. But his deployment to Kuwait with the 27th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, providing security for an important base and convoys, was largely uneventful.
As Hurricane Sandy tore through the northeast United States, the stress of being away from his wife and home grew to be greater than the stress of the day to day life of an enlisted soldier. He found himself needed in two places at once.
“She wasn’t physically hurt,” Corey said, recounting the Red Cross message he had received from his wife while he was still in Kuwait. “But it was more mental, emotional kind of support she needed.”
By the time a soldier’s unit receives a Red Cross message, the issue facing his or her family back home has been established as a legitimate emergency. After over a decade of deploying soldiers overseas, the Army has developed a streamlined process to get soldiers who are mobilized back home to deal with deaths and personal crises.
As Christian described the damage to his home and neighborhood, he was dressed in a dark hoodie spattered with paint. His eyes were tired. His voice was tired. But he was optimistic about the progress he had made in repairing his home.
He recalled his impressions of coming back to U.S. soil, and how he received support from across the military community.
“After I got into the airport in New York I was in civilian clothing,” he said. “I had my military bag. I came straight home. But from then on I got a lot of phone calls from the FRG [Family Readiness Group]. They sent some money out – there was a small check that they got together for three soldiers who were affected by the hurricane.
All the gas stations were closed in the area, so it was hard to get gas and food. The National Guard also offered to send down a bunch of people to help with anything, but I didn’t want twenty people inside the house, so I declined, but they were offering soldiers to come and help.”
While he received a lot of support, he soon realized how much work was ahead of him. Much of the real damage to the home was hidden.
“The water inside actually came to about knee high,” he said. “Nobody in this house are contractors, electricians, or anything, so we kind of tried to sweep it under the rug and say ‘Everything looks good.’
About a week later they had FEMA guys come through checking out the houses, and everything was compromised. They told us that the sheet rock up on the walls was compromised, filled with mud on the inside that you can’t see. You have to take out all the walls. All the electrical wiring was all compromised. We were without power for about four weeks.”
Having just come from living on a military base, Corey was used to getting three meals a day, living in air conditioned buildings with electricity, going to the gym, and having a regular – if somewhat boring – routine.
“So I came home from living in [the barracks] to living in this, and I was miserable, I’m not gonna lie. We had running water. We had wooden floors, it was all moldy underneath, we had to pull that all up. All the walls had to come down. All the wiring had to get pulled out, brand new wires, brand new electrical outlets, boxes, the whole work up from downstairs.”
Much of his Queens neighborhood had suffered similar damage. The Federal Emergency Management Agency(FEMA), deployed agents to the city to pay and supervise contractors who completed emergency repairs to electrical systems. FEMA would pay the cost for some repairs, but most of the real work had to be completed by the people who lived in the damaged homes.
“We had to pay for materials. Contractors are not putting up walls, and they aren’t painting, stuff like that. They are doing life or death things like electrical. We had a bunch of electricians come through and approve the house. But as far as tearing down walls, putting walls up, we’re doing all that ourselves. We got a family friend to come out and help us because it’s expensive.”
Compounding the difficulty of working to repair the home was a lack of personal transportation.
“The family lost two vehicles that got totaled by the hurricane, and that insurance money still hasn’t come through,” he said.
Christian’s civilian work has been with the FDNY as an EMT, since age 17. The Fire Department has been supportive in allowing him the time necessary to repair his house.
“My job has been very supportive,” he said. “They have given me time off. At first they gave me all my vacation leave and sick leave, but now I’m off without pay, but they are still giving me time off until April, when I can come back.”
Next up: Corey Christian’s plans for life post deployment
Jonathan Raab is a writer, teacher, and a veteran of the Afghanistan war. He is currently exploring career opportunities in the Denver, Colorado area and is continuing work on a satirical novel about war and the post-modern veteran experience. Follow him on Twitter at @jpraab.
Comments are welcome.
Read about Vets answering the call for disaster relief here.
PHOTO details of group depicted in carousel: Specialist Corey ‘Doc’ Christian, with Third Squad, Third Platoon, Alpha Company, 2-108 Infantry, Kuwait, 2012. Doc is standing to the right of the writer.