Army and Air Force ROTC Join Central Arkansas Tornado Relief Effort

Two flags of America and Arkansas, battered but still waving near Vilonia.
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Two flags of America and Arkansas, battered but still waving near Vilonia.

After an EF-4 tornado hit Central Arkansas and devastated large portions of the cities of Mayflower, Vilonia and some of the surrounding areas on April 27, one Army ROTC cadet’s tenacity resulted in the formation of a 31-person team to be mobilized to the areas most critically hit. Army ROTC units from the University of Arkansas in both Fort Smith and Fayetteville, as well as the Fayetteville campus’s Air Force ROTC program participated in this disaster relief mission just before finals, eager to provide support wherever it was most needed. 

Army Cadet Stewart Tice took special interest in this project because of his ties to the area. The storm hit so close to his home that his parents were picking up glass and debris from their front yard on Monday morning. Despite having other commitments that day and finals coming up, when Tice contacted other cadets about the project, support immediately flowed in. Within a day, they had a team of 17 Army ROTC cadets, two Air Force ROTC cadets and a professor of military science ready to help.  In addition, Fort Smith had eight cadets and one instructor, as well as two cadets from the University of Central Arkansas Army ROTC. 

The relief group decided they would partner with New Life Church and the Arkansas Dream Center to gain the credentials needed to have access to the disaster area and aid in the recovery. Bo Renner, president of the Associated Student Government, signed an executive order allocating $999.99 to ROTC for supplies and equipment needed to support the mission.  

The Fayetteville group left at 5 a.m. May 3, heading south to link up with the rest of their team and the Dream Center. Upon arrival, the group was immediately dispatched to the community of Saltillo to help a woman who lost her entire home.

“The hard work and respect our cadets put forth brought tears to this woman's eyes,” said Tice. They were originally told that they would probably only be able to complete one project that day due to the amount of work that needed to be done, but that was unacceptable to the ROTC team. “We pushed on and ended up completing four total projects in both Saltillo and downtown Vilonia before we called it a day,” said Tice.

The biggest shock to the team was when they entered Vilonia, where the tornado took a path directly down Main Street. “As we were driving downtown, we were surrounded on both sides by total destruction, fires burning, smoke billowing, and piles of rubble,” said Tice. “It looked like something you would see in a National Geographic documentary on the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.”

They got to work helping another family whose house was completely knocked off of its foundation and had their RV flipped upside down on top of the remaining rubble. Their job was to separate debris from the house that was scattered throughout their 5 acres of land into different piles that would later be collected by FEMA, and to salvage any personal items they could. Part of the team used chainsaws to clear trees and brush. 

“I was really blown away at just how bad the destruction was,” said Air Force Cadet Miles Legere. “Pictures can't really do it justice. And what struck me was that a lot of times the only thing still standing was an American flag.”

“Overall, this project is probably one of the most important I have ever participated in while in ROTC, truly showing our cadets’ commitment to the Army values of duty and selfless service,” said Tice. In talking with several of the affected families, the cadets learned how much it meant to them that they came and helped. He added, “I have never been more proud of our team of cadets, cadre, and our university as a whole for what they did to help complete strangers.”

“This is an excellent example of what an impact we can make when the Army and Air Force ROTC programs work together towards a common goal,” said Lt. Col. Buster G. McCall.

Army Cadet Lance Lanier was surprised to see how much the team could help in just one day. “The volunteers at the sites were so kind and selfless,” said Lanier. “It was nice having our program work together to help out the community.”

The young cadets were impressed with the unbroken spirit of the communities they were helping that day. Legere added, “It was truly an amazing experience to be a part of the rebuilding effort.”

Air Force Cadet Emily Murphey felt compelled to help with the disaster clean-up even though she had no ties to the area. “I couldn't believe what we saw when we went through the area, but there was so much hope among the community and gratitude for the volunteers,” said Murphey. “In the grand scheme of things, we hardly made a dent in the total cleanup, but to several families our help was a big step in their healing process.” 

Along with U of A Fayetteville’s Army cadre leader, Lt. Col. Chuck Pudil, Army ROTC cadets included: Stewart Tice, Daniel Clark, Charley Boykin, Ian Lindeman, Alexandria Slay, Jessica Carranza, Bank Sinwitayarak, Lance Lanier, Abigail Witty, Jack Powell, Ryan Rogers, Lysa Walterhouse, Liston Barber, Justin McFadden, Rayne Scott, Eric Jeter, Ben Hughey. The Air Force cadets included: Emily Murphey and Miles Legere.



Cat Donnelly, Administrative Specialist
Air Force ROTC


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