PSYOP soilders take care of their own, and others, in the wake of Sandy – DVIDS

Story by Sergeant Patience Okhuofu, 351st Tactical Psychological Operations Company

NEW YORK – “It blows from above, and blows from beyond, and blows until all that we have is gone. All that we’ve worked for and all that we have, Is gone in the blink of an eye… A moment ago we had a fine home, With everything there in its place, and then in an instant our whole world has changed, we see naught but a large empty space.” (Hurricane by David Ronald Bruce Pekrul)

Such was the plight of most residents of New York and New Jersey when Hurricane Sandy struck on Oct. 29. Cpl. Michael Pushkal, a newlywed soldier with the 360th Tactical Psychological Operations Company, came back from his honeymoon a few days before Sandy.

“My wife and I got the basic stuff like food, batteries and flashlight,” said Pushkal. “I have neighbors that lived in my neighborhood for the past sixty seven years who told me that they have never flooded. So the chance of being flooded never crossed our mind.”

Sandy, a category 2 hurricane, proved different. At about 2 o’clock, things started looking bad for this Toms River neighborhood when the wind started picking up and ripping the roofs off the houses. Corporal Pushkal who lived by a lagoon, still felt confident that he would not be flooded but decided to move all the furniture from one side of the house to another in case the glass windows shatters. “Around 7:30pm the lagoons started coming up, contrary to the forecast placing the high tide at about 1am. At that point I decided to pack a bag and leave with my wife to my parents’ house” he said. But they never made it to their room. Just then, their neighbor came banging on their door to inform them that they were about to get flooded. With a few items, two dogs and a cat, they camped with other neighbors in a nearby two story house.

Seeing that there was no movement in his neighbors’ houses, Pushkal left the safety of the house he was in and waded through water that was already about 4 feet deep. He feared they might not be aware that their houses were filling up with water, so he started to bang on doors. He was able to assist some of his neighbors to the two-story home where ultimately eight people and seven animals crammed in one upstairs room.

By the time rescue workers arrived, the first floor was covered with water, houses were going up in flames all around them, and Pushkal’s own house was flooded. They had to evacuate through the window upstairs.

On the Saturday following the storm, thanks to Cpl. Justin Veil and 360th, seventeen people (soldiers and family members), armed with trash bags, masks, and cleaning supplies showed up at Pushkal’s house.

Pushkal contacted a shipping container company to get a portable storage unit delivered. That made it easier to store the few items they managed to salvage. Pushkal had also left his windows open to enable ventilation and to keep mold from festering

“When Cpl. Pushkal called me and said he got flooded, I knew we had to do something, seeing as we are one big Army family and we take care of our own” said Veil, a close friend of Pushkal. Veil said that being without electricity for eleven days paled in comparison to the devastation that he encountered in Pushkal’s neighborhood.

With emotion-laden voice Veil recalled the moment they finished cleaning up his house and, instead of going to their respective homes, his buddies went door to door around his neighborhood assisting those in need. “I was so proud of them” he said.

When asked why they decided to assist Pushkal’s neighbors, Spc. Timothy Kobe, who drove all the way from Philadelphia, said “It’s hard to look around and see people in need and do nothing. It just seems natural.”

Because he is a Reservist, Pushkal did not qualify for some of the assistance that is readily available to Active Duty soldiers said 360th Family Readiness Group leader Lindsey Harrar. “Knowing what is available at the city, state and federal level to assist victims is crucial for Army Reserve FRG leaders” said Harrar who is still investigating different programs that are out there to help Soldiers like Pushkal.

So far, the 360th Command team has set up a fund to provide
immediate financial assistance for Pushkal and his pregnant wife.
This brought our Unit closer said Captain Phaedra Rosario, Commander of the 360th. I have been telling my Soldiers that this is more than a Unit; we are family and families look out for each other; they listened and have surpassed my expectations. It is a pleasure and honor to be the Commander of the 360th.

To help out the 360th soldiers who were victims of hurricane Sandy, contact the FRG leader Lindsey Harrar at 610-844-2278.