Sailors respond to devastating EF5 tornado
Senior Chief Christopher Owen had just placed his most prized possession, his daughter, into the cramped 3 ft. x 6 ft. tornado shelter dug into the floor of his garage, when he heard the television say "IF YOU'RE NOT IN A SHELTER, YOU'RE NOT GOING TO MAKE IT!"
The EF5 tornado, the highest possible rank by the National Weather Service, struck Moore, Okla. May 20, 2013, killing 23 people and injuring 377 others. In only 39 minutes, the tornado traveled 17 miles and at its most destructive was 1.3-miles wide, pummeling the heavily populated suburb.
About ten miles east of Moore at Tinker Air Force Base, more than 1,400 Sailors had gotten word to get home and get safe. The base resides in the infamous "tornado alley," a term used to describe an area in the central United States with the highest frequency of tornadoes in the world according to the National Weather Service.
Owen, along with hundreds of other Sailors and Airmen, took shelter where they could and many jumped into action to help their neighbors in the aftermath of the deadly storm.
"It is something that still haunts me today because the next 18 hours was just cutting through rafters, moving windows out of the way, trying to find people buried," said Owens.
Chief Equipment Operator Joseph Dietz rode the storm out in his closet, emerging to see his neighborhood decimated by the monster tornado. Dietz' extensive experience as a fire chief and emergency medical technician helped guide him through the recovery effort, braving downed power lines and debris fields to help anyone he could find.
"We formed teams with the first responders, and since I was an EMT, they put me on a team with one firefighter and four police officers. I probably helped about eight people out of their homes and medically treated them," said Dietz.
"Oklahoma as a community has always embraced [the Navy] and the Air Force... and no one here has ever had any problem dropping what they need to, to take care of to the families that were affected by this tornado," said Command Master Chief Ed Primeau, Strategic Communications Wing 1/TACAMO (Take Charge And Move Out). "That's what makes TACAMO special. They'll drop anything and do anything for you, and when you surround yourself with people like that, there is no more satisfying feeling that you can have."
More than 300 Tinker Air Force Base families, including contractors, civilians and active-duty military, were affected by the tornado. Many of these families are still in "recovery mode" and working to decide if they are going to rebuild or relocate their homes.