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Hurricane Irene responder helps others, loses home

On Saturday, Aug. 27, the 107th Airlift Wing  deployed 45 Airmen as part of TASK FORCE IRENE will be stationed at Camp Smith near Albany NY. These airmen will remain in place at the center to ride out the storm and then immediately respond to aid civil authorities as directed in New York City. Staff Sergeant Kelli Sweeny is interviewed by Buffalo, NY local media before she deploys with her fellow airman. (Air Force Photo/SMSgt Ray Lloyd)

Tech. Sgt. Kelli Sweeney is interviewed by local media before deploying as part of Task Force Irene on Saturday, August 27. (Air Force Photo/SMSgt Ray Lloyd)

NIAGARA FALLS AIR RESERVE STATION, NIAGARA FALLS, NY --
Tech. Sgt. Kelli Sweeney, member of the 107th Airlift Wing Security Forces, was on her way home after working at the base on Friday, August 26. She was almost to her home in Middleburgh, NY, nearly 300 miles away, when she got the call from the 107th saying they needed all available personnel to report. Hurricane Irene was headed for downstate New York and anyone who could volunteer would be appreciated. She agreed to help out and stopped at her house to gather her gear. There were concerns that Middleburgh would have some flooding, so she made some minor preparations.

"I picked up anything near the floor and put it up higher. I thought maybe we'd get a few inches of flood water, so I wasn't too concerned," she said.

With that, she packed up her gear and headed back to Niagara Falls where she and 44 other members of the 107th Airlift Wing processed and boarded the unit's C-130 in the early morning hours of Saturday, August 27. They proceeded to Camp Smith near Albany, NY the base from which they would work throughout the hurricane response.

They assisted the citizens of Sloatsburg, NY. They brought aid in the form of supplies, water and ice. They also used their Humvees to transport people through the flooded area.

Meanwhile, back at Tech. Sgt. Sweeney's home, Middleburgh was hit hard by Irene, which by that time had been downgraded to a tropical storm. Flooding rains made rivers rise to record levels and knocked out power. Complicating issues, a petroleum spill leaked fuel into the water soaking homes in the foul-smelling water.

Monday morning Tech. Sgt. Sweeney received a call from her landlord with some bad news. Unfortunately, her home was one of those affected by the severe flooding. It was not only flooded by the petroleum-contaminated water but it was swept off of its foundation and displaced about 40 feet from its original location.

Although it was offered, Tech. Sgt. Sweeney did not rush home to attend to her own affairs. She stayed the course and continued to help in the relief efforts.

"There was not much I could do at home. I may as well have been helping out," she said.

Senior Airman Michael Maio worked with her through the hurricane response. "She stayed positive through it all. Absolutely," he said.

Upon returning to Niagara, Master Sgt. Jason Folckemer, Master Sgt. Michael Owczarczak, and Staff Sgt. Shawn Hare drove with Sgt. Sweeney to survey the damage and to see what could be saved.

Nearly all of Tech. Sgt. Sweeney's belongings were destroyed. Only a few wooden furniture items could be salvaged.

Governor Andrew Cuomo declared the Catskill Mountains region a disaster area. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse Tech. Sgt. Sweeney only for what they deem to be 'essential items.' She has found a new apartment to live in as she attends college in nearby SUNY Cobleskill, majoring in wildlife biology.

The 107th Airlift Wing family has responded to Tech. Sgt. Sweeney's needs. Security Forces Squadron was able to give her money to use immediately from their flight fund. Contributions were also given by individual security forces members. In addition, they helped her by purchasing items that she needed like a microwave, dishes, and silverware.

Family Readiness Group and Security Forces applied for two grants in her name, one federal grant and one from the National Guard and Naval Militia Relief Society of New York, Inc. The wing plans to provide additional assistance to alleviate her hardship.