Team Dover Hurricane Andrew survivor lends aid to coastal islands

Lorie Bellamy, 436th Airlift Wing occupational safety manager, poses for a photo at a Federal Emergency Management Agency hurricane relief call center in Denton, Texas. Bellamy is one of 70 Air Force civilian volunteers currently assigned to the Department of Homeland Security’s Surge Capacity Force providing aid to Americans affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. (Courtesy Photo)

Lorie Bellamy, 436th Airlift Wing occupational safety manager, poses for a photo at a Federal Emergency Management Agency hurricane relief call center in Denton, Texas. Bellamy is one of 70 Air Force civilian volunteers currently assigned to the Department of Homeland Security’s Surge Capacity Force providing aid to Americans affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. (Courtesy Photo)

In the aftermath of a catastrophic event, the Department of Homeland Security turns to its Surge Capacity Force, a cadre of federal employee heroes who help affected communities by supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s urgent response and recovery efforts. The SCF is made up of Federal employees from every department or agency in the federal government. (Courtesy graphic)

In the aftermath of a catastrophic event, the Department of Homeland Security turns to its Surge Capacity Force, a cadre of federal employee heroes who help affected communities by supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s urgent response and recovery efforts. The SCF is made up of Federal employees from every department or agency in the federal government. (Courtesy graphic)

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- In August 1992, Hurricane Andrew made landfall near Homestead, Florida. With winds measured as high as 196 miles per hour, the small hurricane packed a mighty punch, destroying or damaging about 127,000 homes and causing $26.5 billion in damage. At the time, it was America’s most costly natural disaster. According to The Weather Chanel, Hurricane Andrew is considered the fourth worst hurricane in American history.

Now, 25 years later, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria rocked the Atlantic in close succession. In fact, The Weather Channel already lists Harvey as the second costliest American hurricane, with estimated damage ranging from $70 to $108 billion.

When cries for help echoed through the country and every news network showcased the extreme devastation, one of Team Dover’s civilian Airmen answered the call.

Lorie Bellamy, 436th Airlift Wing occupational safety manager, a retired Air Force Reserve master sergeant, said she was moved by the tremendous need.

“I went through Hurricane Andrew in 1992, so I kind of know how painful it is to be in an area without any power or utilities,” Bellamy said. “I didn’t lose everything, but I know plenty of people who did. It’s a horrible feeling. When I saw all of these disasters, I wanted to help. I knew I could donate money, but I wanted to do something more.”

After 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, America’s costliest hurricane, the U.S. government passed the Post-Katrina Emergency Reform Act of 2006, which established the Surge Capacity Force. The SCF allows the deployment of Federal employees in the aftermath of catastrophic events.

The Department of Homeland Security first activated the SCF in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy.

On Sept. 19, 2017, a mass email was sent to all Air Force Civilians requesting their help. Applicants only received three days to respond.

“DHS has already surged 1,400 of their own employees,” the Air Force Personnel Center mass email request stated. “However, the magnitude of devastation resulting from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have led DHS to request additional help. Specifically, they have asked the [Air Force] for assistance in identifying at least 70 AF civilian federal employee volunteers who are willing and able to immediately deploy as part of the SCF.”

Bellamy was one of the first to respond, getting approval for a 45-day temporary duty assignment to support relief efforts.

“I’ve always wanted to do something like this, but it’s kind of hard to leave your job and not get paid for a set of time,” Bellamy said. “I jumped right on the opportunity. I figured my boss would approve it since it was a government initiative. I’m really lucky to have been selected. They actually stopped the application process because so many people applied.”

According to Lt. Col. Ed Szczepanik, 436th Airlift Wing Safety commander, roughly 400 Air Force civilians applied for the TDY, and he’s proud Bellamy was one of the 70 selected. A total of 290 were selected across the Department of Defense.

“When Ms. Bellamy requested approval to assist FEMA with hurricane relief, I was equal parts excited and hesitant,” Szczepanik said. “Having observed Lorie’s professionalism and skills in the office, I felt she was a perfect fit for this opportunity, but I also knew we would miss her greatly once selected. As our occupational safety manager, Lorie is passionate about the wellbeing of the men and women at Dover AFB, and we’re incredibly proud she is sharing that passion with the hurricane victims who need it most.”

After her volunteer application was accepted, Bellamy had to wait almost two weeks for the orders to come, but on Oct. 8 she finally left for an Alabama training center.

Now, Bellamy is working at a FEMA hurricane relief call center in Denton, Texas. She leaves her hotel every morning at 4:15 a.m. aboard a bus full of volunteers. At the call center, many of the calls must be forwarded to a translator to bridge communication gaps. This doesn’t stop Bellamy though.

“If we’re given the opportunity to help, why wouldn’t we?” Bellamy asked. “I think most folks would. Almost everyone I tell says they wish they could go. Everybody thinks it’s great, because how often do you get to go work for FEMA? How often do you get to help people in such great need?”

Bellamy said she was proud to represent Team Dover by continuing the hurricane relief efforts.

“Humanitarian missions are such an important part of what we do here at Dover AFB,” Bellamy said. “I’m proud I get to go and support restoration efforts and see what the real mission does. I’ve never deployed as a reservist, so I’m very excited to see first-hand what we do.”

In the days that followed the hurricanes, Dover Airmen worked hard to deliver supplies to Puerto Rico. In fact, they were in Puerto Rico offering aid while news reports indicated America wasn’t doing enough to help. These Airmen didn’t get discouraged though, they pushed on and got the mission done.

“I know from going through Hurricane Andrew that it does take time to mobilize support,” Bellamy said. “I think we’re doing the best we can do to get aid and support down to the people affected by these hurricanes. In Florida, we were only an hour away from civilization and it was very difficult to get supplies in and out of there. The roadways were all blocked and the airfields were full of debris. Puerto Rico isn’t lucky enough to be as close to key infrastructure like we were, but I know, we’re doing everything we can to take care of them.”

To date, Team Dover C-5M Super Galaxies and C-17 Globemaster IIIs have flown 86 sorties, delivering 262.4 short tons of cargo and 161 passengers in support of hurricane relief.

“Since the first hurricane hit in August, Team Dover Airmen have gone above and beyond to extend American assistance,” said Col. Ethan Griffin, 436th AW commander. “All have played their part, to include deployed reservists who worked to reestablish Homestead AFB in Florida, aircrew who flew support missions into the affected region at all hours, and forward-deployed maintenance personnel who helped maintain airflow through Puerto Rico. Additionally, Airmen like Ms. Bellamy answered the call, bringing her talents to a support center in Texas. Her willingness to volunteer for this civilian deployment is outstanding – a visible representation of an Air Force Core Value: Service Before Self. We couldn’t be more proud of Dover Airmen answering the call of those in need.”