The National Guard Family

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Robin Olsen
  • JFHQ
The month of May started with what is now being referred to as the historical 1000-year flood. More than 15 inches of rain fell in many areas of middle Tennessee creating flood water that left the destruction of several homes in its path.

For Ashland City resident Jim Johnson, the entire first floor and four feet of the second story of his home were completely submerged in water. The one-story home next door to his was entirely engulfed.

Johnson, a Senior Master Sergeant with the Tennessee Air National Guard's 118th Airlift Wing who serves as the Aircrew Flight Equipment Superintendent for the unit, is one of many Cheatham County residents to be affected by the storms, but he is thankful. He had his "Guard Family" behind him during the terrible crisis he and his wife, Jennie, and their two youngest sons now face.

"We were evacuated Sunday at three in the morning and we weren't allowed to go back until Friday," said his wife, Jennie.

"When I went outside that morning, I knew something wasn't right," Jim said.

After his wife and two sons evacuated from the home, Jim stayed behind to move things upstairs.

"The water rose to about 4-feet high within an hour. When I heard that there were tornado warnings and hail along with the flood around me, that's when I decided to get out," he said. "More distant neighbors who were higher up on top of hills said they could see the lights on in our house under the water at night."

They were not able to go back to their home and see what was left until Friday.

"When we walked in, I just broke down," said Jennie. "It was like someone took the house, turned it upside down and shook it, and then put it back."

"There was mud everywhere and the smell was nauseating," Jim added. "You could smell the stench left behind as your started driving into town." The Johnson's had a meat freezer in their garage that was knocked over and left opened by the rapid flood waters contributing to the already pungent smell around the city.

"What made me almost cry was opening the garage and seeing our motorcycles," he added.

Inside their home, the damage was just as bad.

"I was overwhelmed with grief and hopelessness. There was mold all the way up to the ceiling on the second floor," Jim explained. "The house is a total loss."

In the midst of all the devastation, something unexpected happened for the Johnson's the next morning. About ten members of his Air National Guard unit showed up to help clean out his flooded home. They also showed up the next weekend, that time bringing their family and friends making the number more than 20. Many were co-workers that he saw every day, but some were Airmen he didn't even know.

"They showed up with tools in hand, ready to help with the clean-up effort," Jim said.

"They brought food and gift cards to help us out, as well," added Jennie.

Maj. Jonathan Walsh, a navigator at the 118th AW, was one of the people who came to help at the Johnson home. He also coordinated the two groups that showed up during those two weekends.

"My church started helping people affected by the flood, so I started asking questions to find out who needed help at the Guard base," said Walsh. "I sent out e-mails and started talking to people face-to-face to see who could help. I also got help finding people through Sherri Weathers, our Family Readiness Coordinator."

"It's good to help someone you know who really needs something," Walsh added.

The Johnsons cannot rebuild their home, which was originally built in the 70s.

"We had just remodeled both bathrooms, and the living room just had new carpet and new furniture put in. The entire first floor foundation needs to come out and if it were to be put back, it would need to be built higher. The cost just isn't worth it." Jim said. "As long as I've lived there, water has never gotten in."

Having their home flooded has been an emotionally draining experience for the couple, who just married in 2006.

"You think it's a bad dream," Jennie said.

Jim refers to Walsh and the other National Guard members of the 118th AW as his family.

"Here at the unit, we always talk about how the Guard is one big family, and it really is," he said.

For the Johnson's just being a co-worker in the Guard is not the only reason they consider the Guard to be family. Jim's brother and oldest son are also part of the 118th AW. "My Dad used to be in this unit, too," he said.

"What many of those who came to help may not have realized was the view of everything from our perspective," Jim explained. "As Jennie and I went through one of the hardest days of our lives that first day, we saw my fellow Guard members standing there supporting us and helping in ways that only close friends and families can."