Photo by Kent Cummins/Ben Juneby loads Fort Greely-donated furniture in his pickup to take to his re-built home in Eagle, Alaska.
Fort Greely Garrison assists Alaska flood victims
By Kent Cummins
Public Affairs Officer
Fort Greely Garrison
In a matter of hours Eagle, Alaska, was changed forever.
In early May 2009 it took the mighty ice-packed Yukon River just 48 hours to engulf the old riverside village of Eagle. It devoured trees, homes and businesses, dramatically changing the landscape.
It also changed lives.
“I grew up on the river and it is hard when something takes that away from you,” said Ruth Ridley, an Athabascan who was born and raised in Eagle.
“I cried when I saw the old village was gone,” Ridley said. “I cried and cried, but I’m stronger now.”
Ridley, like many of the 180 residents of Eagle, has called the Alaska village home for generations.
Although it took only hours for the worst-ever recorded ice flooding to consume Eagle, help came just as fast.
The first person to arrive on scene to help with the disaster and begin the recovery effort was Jerry Isaac, president and chairman of the Tanana Chiefs Conference, a traditional tribal consortium of the 42 villages of Interior Alaska.
Help also came pouring in from all over the country including members of Fort Greely.
When Craig Odom, contract performance evaluator, heard the installation was planning a “reutilization” sale of excess items he mentioned the flooding victims to a member of the Logistics Directorate.
“I was checking into the opportunity to bid on some of the excess furniture,” said Odom. “Most of it was in near new condition. However, I thought there may be a chance to help others who were less fortunate … it simply was the right thing to do considering the disaster situation.”
Odom’s inspiration soon turned to action.
“This provided the Fort Greely Garrison an opportunity to distribute excess property, through the Army's Reutilization and Marketing Office, and furnish assistance to residents of the flooded villages,” said Ann Rasmussen, property book officer for the Logistics Directorate. “Any time you can help people in a time of need it is a good thing.”
The leader of the Fort Greely Garrison agreed.
“Alaska is the largest state in the nation but in terms of helping out your neighbor it is just like a small town,” said Lt. Col. Chris Chronis, Fort Greely Garrison Commander. “We wanted to be good neighbors and do the right thing.
Members of the Fort Greely Logistics Directorate worked closely with the Tanana Chiefs Conference to ensure the donated items would reach villages affected by the flooding.
“Fort Greely employees really stepped up to the plate to help the flooded villages,” said Chronis. “Our director of Logistics figured out a way to donate approximately 50 sets of furniture and appliances slated for re-sale, to the flood victims.”
“The Tanana Chiefs Conference could not be more pleased with the furniture donated by Fort Greely,” said Ted Charles, chief administrative officer for the Tanana Chiefs Conference. “Many families were devastated by the 2009 Spring Flood. This furniture is a great comfort to those trying to get back home before winter.”
In early September with the re-building process in full swing in Eagle, a 40-foot trailer filled with the furniture from Fort Greely arrived.
“It was very exciting for residents who had lost everything to the Yukon flood to come and pick up their new items … dining tables, chairs, couches, dressers, nightstands and beds,” said Stacey Pare, information, donations and fund raising coordinator in Eagle.
“We witnessed many smiles, thanks and even a few tears,” said Pare, who serves on the city council and also lost her home to the flood. “We would like to thank Fort Greely, Tanana Chiefs Conference, Interior Regional Housing Authority, Brice, Inc., and the Northern Alaska Disaster Recovery Services for making the donations possible.”
Joanne MacDonald, an Athabascan from Eagle, was one of the first residents to arrive to pick out furniture for her home that was being rebuilt.
MacDonald said she and her three children had just moved into a log cabin in the old village last fall.
“The river ice came up so fast we left everything behind and we lost everything,” MacDonald said. “The furniture is a Godsend.”
The flood affected more than just structures.
“I was supposed to get married to Brady Wallace from Fort Yukon in Eagle’s St. John’s Episcopal Church,” said MacDonald. “But, it was destroyed in the ice flood … the only items that survived were the church bell and baptismal.”
Although Eagle was the hardest hit, Fort Greely furniture and appliances were also sent to Stevens Village, Circle, Fort Yukon and Tanana, according to Charlisa Attla, Director of Special Projects for the Tanana Chiefs Conference.
Hundreds of volunteers and donations like the items from Fort Greely have poured in to Interior Alaska villages from businesses across the country.
Rob Paire, volunteer coordinator for Light Shine Ministries in Lancaster, Pa., was one of the first to arrive in Eagle to help with volunteers, donations and the recovery effort.
“We have had so many volunteers come in groups and as individuals,” said Paire. “In addition to volunteers from Mennonite Disaster Service and Samaritan's Purse, 230 volunteers from all over the United States and abroad came to help Eagle rebuild.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved the funding of 13 new homes in Eagle. Volunteers recently completed the homes. Many are furnished with some of the donated items from Fort Greely.
“While Mennonite Disaster Services and Samaritan’s Purse volunteers focused on building the new homes to replace those completely destroyed by the flood, other volunteers have taken on the monumental task of debris removal and salvage operations and making critical repairs to the many homes damaged by the flood,” Pare explained.
“We are so thankful to all the many folks who have put their own lives on hold to come to assist our community,” said Pare. “We are truly blessed by their presence. This has been a great experience for all of us, the residents of Eagle and the volunteers.”
Joanne MacDonald and Brady Wallace did have their wedding recently and although they had to exchange vows in Fairbanks it is a sign that life in Eagle will return to normal … trees will grow, businesses will re-build and houses will become “homes” again.