SWEENY, TX, UNITED STATES
Story by: Staff Sgt. Bethany Anderson
100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
SWEENEY, Texas - As a mother and Texas Army National Guardsman, I have had first-hand experience with wildfires, tornadoes, ice storms, snow storms and earthquakes, but Harvey was my first hurricane.
What could have been an ugly and terrible life changing event for my little girls was turned into a beautiful adventure.
As Texas Guardsmen from across the state geared up to serve Texas citizens, I was preparing to evacuate my family from our home. Not knowing where we’d go, how long we’d be gone, weighed me down like a ton of bricks. But I was not about to unnecessarily put my three little girls in harm’s way.
While we loaded food and clothes into the cars, I asked my 3-year-old daughter, Kayden, and my 5-year-old daughter, Alex, to make sure they picked up everything off the floor in case water got inside while we were away.
“Is the house going to sink, Mommy?” Kayden asked, peering up at me with her beautiful big blue eyes.
“Sort of,” I replied. “Now, please go pick up your things off the floor.” Alex and Kayden darted off to their rooms and I continued to pack.
I was gathering up the last of our belongings when I heard Alex and Kayden talking in the hallway. “I love you, one would say. “Be safe,” the other would say. “I’ll miss you… we’ll be back soon.”
I peered out of the doorway to see my two babies hugging door frames and kissing the walls of our house. When they reached me, I could barely hold back my tears.
I evacuated my family around six o’clock on the evening of Monday, August 28, 2017. With my mother’s help, we loaded up my three daughters and three dogs into the car. My mother, whose flight back to California out of Houston was canceled, drove my husband’s truck containing our food, water, some valuables, and clothes. My husband, JD, who was working in Brownsville, looked for someone who could house our dogs.
The drive from Sweeny to San Antonio took us almost seven hours; a drive which normally takes three.
My 13-year-old daughter, Emily, argued with Alex while Kayden made animal noises and sang at the top of her lungs and one of the dogs whined and howled. The madness inside our car seemed to mimic the madness outside the car while I gripped the steering wheel and strained to hear the GPS.
I took a deep breath, focusing on the road as another violent gust of wind rocked the car. What used to be open fields of green were now angry oceans of flood water stretching out as far as I could see. It seemed as if our Toyota 4Runner was precariously skimming over the thin ribbon of road that cut through the massive expanse of water. I have driven through a lot of intense situations as a mom and as a Soldier, but this was, by far, my most stressful drive ever.
We arrived at the hotel in San Antonio around one o’clock in the morning, August 29, 2017.
Despite being mentally and emotionally drained, sleep did not come easy. Kayden’s little fingers were gripped around my index finger and Alex’s head rested gently on my shoulder while I listened to Emily sleep on the couch. My family was safe; but instead of feeling relieved, the uncertainty of our situation gnawed at me. With a heavy heart and my stomach in knots, I finally drifted to sleep.
Warm sunshine poured through the windows of our hotel room the next morning. Alex and Kayden hopped up in bed and exclaimed, “It’s not raining! Can we go home now?” I was both amused and disheartened. “No, girls. It’s still raining at our house. It’s not safe to go back.”
I spent the next two weeks answering the same question, and each time my answer never failed to produce a look of disappointment on my children’s faces.
We relocated three times and had to relocate the dogs twice. Each time we left the dogs with someone else, Alex’s heart would break and she’d sulk into my arms desperately fighting back tears.
I spent every day checking the weather, skimming through Facebook for information and watching Brazoria County press conferences for updates. I hated not being able to tell my children when we would go home. I didn’t even know if we’d have a home to go back to.
Anxiety, guilt and frustration came to me in waves, but I held it all; my girls needed to feel safe. They couldn’t see Mom disappear into her emotions.
Disappointing my children wasn’t the only thing on my mind. I had a couple part-time jobs and had recently started my own business to help pay the bills. Even though my husband was still working, Harvey’s relentlessness put every stream of income I had in limbo. Our family was already struggling to keep our finances afloat, and this certainly wasn’t going to help.
When I first received a message from my unit asking if our family was financially affected by the storm, I didn’t respond. Thousands of other people were much worse off than we were; it didn’t feel right asking for help. But my mom reminded me of all the times that we were able to help other people.
“You and JD have helped financially support others when they needed it,” my mom said. “You need to give others the opportunity to bless you.”
I replied to the text and let my unit know our family’s situation.
While our story is filled with tears and frustration, it is also filled with kindness, hope and gratitude. I have never been on the receiving end of so much generosity, support and encouragement.
When I first heard the phrase ‘Texans serving Texas,’ I only thought of myself as a Texas Guardsman, serving the citizens of Texas and the United States. I never thought it would mean Texas Army National Guard Soldiers serving my family.
Peers and leaders in the 71st Troop Command reached into wallets, without hesitation, and gave money, gift cards, toiletries and toys to my family, many of whom had never seen my face or heard my name before. Letters, gift cards and care packages also arrived from friends of Soldiers.
“This is like Christmas!” Alex shouted in excitement as she reached into a box of toys.
My children were filled with joy and laughter as they played with their new treasures. I was, and still am, both overwhelmed and humbled by the support my family and I received from my fellow service members.
One of my responsibilities as a Public Affairs NCO is to help tell the Army story. My unit, the 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, even found a way for me to support the Texas Military Department’s mission in response to Hurricane Harvey, despite my situation. I had Soldiers from my team spread out all over the state of Texas working long, hard hours to make sure people knew who the Texas Army National Guard was and what we were doing to help. It is difficult to be a leader and stand on the sidelines, but my unit empowered me to dig in and help my Soldiers be successful.
While my unit was doing everything they could to ensure the safety and well-being of my family, my business partners from all over the country flew into action. They took up donations and sent our family care packages with activities for the girls, home made cookies and gift cards. Another business partner sent a care package of supplements to help with my daughter’s digestive health problems.
We were even able to explore some fun places, as many businesses (like the aquarium) were opening their doors to Harvey evacuees free of charge. I didn’t have to stress over where dinner was coming from, and I didn’t have to confine my children to a hotel room for two weeks because we didn’t have money for gas. Every penny we received was used on gas, groceries and bills. The monetary and physical gifts my family received were in exact proportion to what we needed, exactly when we needed it. No more, no less.
On Saturday, September 9, the roads cleared and the sun broke through the clouds, so we headed home.
JD had driven up from Brownsville to help me get our family back to the house. We hadn’t seen our home in almost two weeks and didn’t know what to expect, but we were hopeful.
The closer we got to home, the more destruction and devastation we saw. Sheet rock, furniture and appliances were already sitting outside of houses. Trees, bushes and buildings were coated with thick brown mud. Some of the trees and bushes were tangled up with mattresses, chairs and trash. My 13-year-old daughter, Emily, noticed her best friend’s house had fallen prey to the flooding.
Our home was spared, for the most part. The menacing waters of the flooded San Bernard River came within just a few short feet of touching our home. Our master bedroom, bathroom and closet will need repairs from water damage caused by a leak from the first few days of the storm.
We are truly blessed to have so little to repair when so much of our neighborhood and community lost everything.
Whether in uniform, or out of uniform, I am a Texan serving Texas. I’m working to raise money to buy new playground equipment for Kayden’s daycare that lost everything in the flood.
Alex and Kayden sorted through all their belongings so they could share their clothes and toys with children who have none. Emily spent her free time with our church youth group helping people clean up wherever they could. So many people helped us after we evacuated and we’re going to do everything we can to help too. Only good things can come from helping others.
The road ahead for our family is going to be a difficult one. But we know that we won’t have to travel that road alone, or more than one day at a time. The recent events of the last three weeks have shown me that I have the strongest support networks a person could hope for.
I am a better person because of this experience and I will be able to bless others because of it. There are too many people who helped to list them all, but I will never forget and will always cherish their generosity.
There is a lot of uncertainty in our near future, but I am certain that everything’s going to be just fine.