One Team, One Fight: Oklahoma National Guard Family Program Office assists after Hurricane Laura

By Leanna Maschino | Oklahoma National Guard | Sept. 16, 2020

OKLAHOMA CITY — As 2020 proves to be a trying period of time with the ongoing pandemic and the unknown, the drive to help one another has yet to waver.

This was the case for contractors, state employees and Guardsmen with the Oklahoma National Guard Family Program Office, when they lent a helping hand to their fellow and familiar State of Louisiana after Hurricane Laura wreaked havoc on their coast.

“With the approach of Hurricane Laura toward the Louisiana and Texas coasts, I reached out to my counterparts in those states to see if they anticipated needing some help in making outreach calls to their Service members in affected areas,” said Mr. Clay Fees, director for the Oklahoma National Guard’s Family Program Office. “Lt. Col. Ebony Carter with Louisiana let me know that her Family Readiness Support Assistants and Family Assistance Specialists had their contract terminated, and that she was without adequate personnel to make her outreach calls.”

The Louisiana personnel who normally handle this type of family readiness support were transitioning from a national contract to becoming state employees, which left a seven day break in their contract, right as Hurricane Laura made landfall.

It was then that Lt. Col. Ebony Carter, Family Program Office Division Chief for the Louisiana National Guard, gathered a list of more than 200 Service members and their families that needed to be contacted.

“Oklahoma Family Programs reached out to 221 Guard families, which was significant,” said Carter, who without Oklahoma’s support would have had to call all of those families with only four personnel on her team. “That amount of calls seems daunting for four of us to make in 24 to 48 hours.”

In less than one day, almost every person on that list received a call from Oklahoma’s outreach team.

“Because of them stepping in, we were freed up to compile resources so we could prioritize our efforts and get resources to or begin working with those who needed it most,” Carter said.

The endeavor on Oklahoma’s end was spearheaded by Mark Reis, Service Member and Family Support Specialist with the Oklahoma FPO, who brought the outreach team together.

“They [Service Member and Family Readiness Specialists] are people in the field directly interacting with our Guardsmen and their families assisting with whatever issues and challenges they may have,” Fees said. “Think of them as performing triage: Guardsmen or their family members come to them, they assess their needs and challenges, determine which resource is best, and then plugs those individuals in need to those resources.”

Usually, each FPO works solely within their respective state, but in cases such as Hurricane Laura, these specialists from Oklahoma expanded their reach beyond their borders.

According to Fees, this is not the first time his office has assisted other states in a time of need. In 2017, Oklahoma’s FPO reached out to more than 900 Texas National Guard families when Hurricane Harvey struck, and nearly 500 North Carolina National Guard families after Hurricane Dorian hit in 2019. In return, those states, among others, have also reached out to Oklahoma in times of adversity.

“Not a disaster goes by that I don’t receive calls from other states offering the same assistance we provided to Louisiana,” Fees said. “Family Program Offices nationwide are one team, one fight.”

Carter shared his sentiment, highlighting her appreciation of support from neighboring states.

“Our state is pretty rock steady and we take our licks and keep on ticking,” Carter said. “But what a tremendous feeling it is to be assured that when assistance is needed, sister states will not hesitate to respond to the call to help. Thank you, Oklahoma!”

When reflecting on Hurricane Katrina that devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005, Carter mentioned Hurricane Laura reminded her of that support—support that over 2,000 members of the Oklahoma National Guard along with neighboring states provided during that time.

“It reminded me of how supportive sister states are in times of need,” Carter said. “When people say, ‘we’re just a phone call away,’ Oklahoma has shown they don’t just pay lip service to that, and it makes me proud to be on this Guard team.”

Now, with the threat of additional hurricanes, Mr. Fees has again reached out to those states that could be affected and offered their services.
Video by Sgt. Michael Adams
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