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Guardsman Focuses on Moore Community, Reclaims Home

By Air Force Airman 1st Class Kasey Phipps
137th Air Refueling Wing

MOORE, Okla., May 24, 2013 – The May 20 tornado that ripped through the Oklahoma communities of Newcastle, Oklahoma City and Moore left a wide path of destruction for the families who live in the area as well as the first responders who rendered aid.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Master Sgt. Brian Hardee, a training noncommissioned Officer assigned to the 63rd Civil Support Team, Oklahoma National Guard, cleans up his yard after a deadly tornado struck Moore, Okla. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kendall James

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Much like the May 3, 1999, tornado that left Moore with miles of damage, families are again facing the reality of reclaiming their lives from the rubble, while first responders are tasked with ensuring the safety of impacted families.

Rarely does a man find himself on both sides. In the case of Master Sgt. Brian Hardee, a training noncommissioned officer for the 63rd Civil Support Team, Oklahoma Army National Guard, worries of his own damaged property were set aside as he shifted thoughts to assisting his community first. He now found himself in roles both as a survivor and as a first responder.

When Hardee turned on the afternoon news Monday and saw the tornado forming, he did “the typical Oklahoman thing -- went outside and watched the clouds,” he said.

Within seconds, the tornado touched down and was quickly nearing his home, Hardee said. His first reaction was to get his neighbor’s family into his underground shelter, and he hurriedly followed. Even with the shelter’s protection, the shaking, rumbling and violent sounds signaled the tornado’s arrival.

Light entered the room through the severely buckled and damaged garage door as they rose out of the shelter, he said.

“When I came out, I could see daylight, and I knew something wasn’t right,” Hardee said.

After a more detailed survey, Hardee found that all of the windows on the backside of his house were shattered, with water and glass strewn throughout, debris spread across his yard, and approximately 20 wooden two-by-fours were embedded in his roof.

Hardee quickly began removing the boards and covering the holes left behind to prevent further damage to his home. He anticipated a call from his first sergeant, directing him to report for state active duty.

“I wanted to do as much as I could, as fast I could,” Hardee said. “I knew we’d be getting called.”

Hardee, in fact, did receive the call and was soon activated alongside other first responders. As he worked in the on-site operations center, he checked on his wife during breaks via text message. Working in Yukon, Okla., she was safely out of the tornado’s path but was unable to return home due to the debris blocking the roads.

“The first night, [my wife] knew there was nothing she could do,” Hardee said.

Though he still thought about his house, Hardee continued his work, focusing in on the vital tasks at hand to help the community recover.

“It’s one of those things that you put aside the best you can, and you do the job that’s in front of you,” he said.

Later that night, Hardee returned to secure his home after talking on the phone with his wife. The next morning, Hardee’s family arrived and continued the clean-up as he resumed operation in his first-responder capacity.

“My family did a great job cleaning up,” he said. “I will be forever in their debt.”

Hardee continues to clean up the wreckage left behind by the tornado, just as other Oklahomans are putting their homes and lives back together.

“I do consider myself lucky,” he said. “It’s damage and stuff to fix, but nothing like the damage to the north.”

Through the destruction and tragedy that has impacted so many lives and the long road to recovery, Hardee looks ahead.

“We have to finish the clean-up and rebuild -- move on with our lives,” he said.


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Related Sites:
Special Report -- Disaster Relief: Oklahoma Tornadoes
Resources for People Affected by the Oklahoma Tornado
Video: Tornado Search and Rescue
Video: Guardsmen Respond to Oklahoma Tornadoes

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