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Hurricane brings renewed gratitude to health care NCO

After working together in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Army Master Sgt. Dean Dawson meets again with brother-in-law and chef Albert Rodriguez during the Invincible Spirit Festival at Brooke Army Medical Center, Joint Base San Antonio. (Courtesy photo) After working together in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Army Master Sgt. Dean Dawson meets again with brother-in-law and chef Albert Rodriguez during the Invincible Spirit Festival at Brooke Army Medical Center, Joint Base San Antonio. (Courtesy photo)

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In this season of celebration and reflection, Army Master Sgt. Dean Dawson is feeling especially appreciative. A volunteer in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, he experienced the best of times in people coming together during the worst of times.

“Everyone was all about helping each other and not thinking about themselves,” he said. “I was humbled by what I saw.”

Dawson is a health care NCO at Regional Health Command Central, Fort Sam Houston, Texas. He was on personal leave when Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast in late August. He’d planned to take his wife to Las Vegas for their 11th wedding anniversary. But the storm made travel difficult, so he ditched that idea.

Then his brother-in-law, a chef for a regional grocery store chain, called. His team needed volunteers to help serve hot meals to those left homeless throughout the state by massive flooding. Dawson decided to use his leave time to assist.

“I hitched up my travel trailer and hit the road,” Dawson said. He headed from San Antonio to Rockport, where he caught up with a caravan heading to NRG Stadium in Houston, home to the city’s NFL team. In all, he drove about 360 miles.

Dawson’s group set up mobile kitchens and joined other volunteers already in place. He spent the next several hours helping to prepare and serve hot meals to about 3,000 storm evacuees.

The next day, Dawson and the group of volunteers headed east to Beaumont. “Gas was getting really, really difficult to find,” he said. To add to the woes, the interstate was closed because floodwaters hadn’t receded. With the caravan taking the long way around, the 85-mile trek took about seven hours, Dawson said.

After finally arriving in Beaumont, Dawson and his group again set up mobile kitchens, this time in the parking lot of one of the grocery chain’s stores. While truckloads of items were brought into the store to restock depleted shelves, Dawson and the other volunteers served breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They also handed out countless bottles of water. The town had lost its water supply after floodwaters took the water treatment plant offline.

Dawson spent a workweek on the road. He was grimy and physically tired, but the people he encountered inspired him to keep going. Images that stick with him include adults who cried with relief after getting their first hot meal in days; children quietly clutching a parent with one hand while the other hand held on to an empty plate waiting to be filled; teenagers with their faces sunburned from spending long hours outside handing out bottled water, neglecting to take a break and eat; and a well-coiffed woman in hospital scrubs and pearls, jumping in to help despite looking like there was somewhere else she had planned to go.

“Everybody was equal,” Dawson said. “There was no class, no color. There was only one. I saw the best of humanity, I truly did.”

The day after Dawson reported back to work at Fort Sam Houston, he took leave again to attend the funeral of his wife’s cousin, a Houston police officer and Army veteran who drowned early one morning after his service vehicle became trapped in floodwaters. His body was recovered the day Dawson was volunteering in Houston.

“It was especially hard being away from my wife that day,” Dawson said.

Still, he said, he feels lucky that he was able to help out. “A lot of my friends wanted to volunteer, but they couldn’t because so many roads were closed and gas was scarce,” Dawson said.

“What I was doing, a lot of people wanted to do. I was just able to do it because I got out of San Antonio in time.”

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