In the wake of the storm: one team, one fight

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- As headlines raced across television screens around the country, Florida families packed up their children, pets and whatever memories could fit into their cars to flee north onto crowded roads filled with millions of others seeking safety.

As many sought shelter in neighboring states, Jadee Purdy, the director of the 6th Civil Engineer Squadron, prepared to make the hard decision of leaving her two young children.

“My husband, who is in a professional military education program in D.C., flew to Tampa for the long Labor Day weekend,” explained Jadee. “As I drove him to the airport the following Monday, I said, ‘Jason we have been talking about Irma, I might need your help in the next couple of days.’ And sure enough, on Tuesday morning I called him and said ‘I’m enacting our care plan.’”

Jason, a military member himself, talked to his leadership and by that afternoon, he was back in Tampa preparing for a possible evacuation.

“The logistics were challenging,” explained Jason. “We had to purchase a plane ticket, rent a vehicle, prepare the house, pack up two small children and three dogs, decide where we were going, and then find lodging or friends to stay with along the route.”

When evacuations in their area were mandated, it was time for her family to leave.

Putting her four-month-old and three-year-old children into the van, the uncertainty of the hurricane’s path left a pit in her stomach. She didn’t know how long she was saying goodbye for.

“The hardest part for me was leaving Jadee behind,” said Jason. “While we knew she would be in a safe location, Irma's initial path and strength concerned me since Jadee could be directly in its path.”

For Jadee, although the unknown was scary, she knew where she needed to be.

“As a mom, it is always hard to say goodbye to your children, but I knew what I needed to do and I knew they were in safe hands,” explained Jadee. “It is the best peace of mind knowing that your children and family are in the capable hands of your partner. I couldn’t do what I do on a daily basis without his support.”

With her family taken care of, she moved on to prepping her house so she could get back to the mission.

“Jason had left so quickly to make sure our family was safe, the hurricane prep on our house wasn’t finished,” said Jadee. “I called up a military friend and a neighbor and they helped me put storm shutters up on my house. The military and our ability, willingness and continuous care of families is why I call it home.

“The hurricane reinforced everything that I love about the military because we took care of our own and were there for each other.”

Mission focused, she returned to work. She had years of both active duty and reservist time, as well as civilian experience, preparing her for something like this.

“In my mind, this is why I signed on the dotted line,” said Jadee. “Being a mission essential civilian with an engineering skill set, I must help execute the mission. It may come across as service before self, but I feel like it is just the way that we all serve.

“The second you raise your hand and say ‘I support and defend the constitution of the United States,’ which both military members and civilians do, I knew that this is what the mission may need of me and I was so excited to be able to say ‘sign me up, let’s do this.’”

As the hurricane drew closer, the eye shifted toward the base, and essential personnel who stayed behind were moved to Raymond James Stadium.

As the uncertainty continued with constant changes in the path, personnel continued to work around the clock to execute the mission. Jadee performed tasks ranging from emergency operations center director to the chief of the hurricane ride out team.

“While working with her, she put personnel's wellbeing ahead of herself and focused on the safe evacuation of installation personnel and families,” said Tech. Sgt. Roderick Gilmore, flight chief of emergency management assigned to the 6th CES. “During the six-day operation, Mrs. Purdy worked long hours to ensure the mission was completed.”

Jadee and the rest of the team continued communication between wing leadership, Hillsborough County and City of Tampa, as well as created and later implemented a tactical recovery plan for MacDill.

“We, as a military organization, were prepared, had a plan and we knew what we were supposed to do,” said Jadee. “Everyone came together whether they were civilian, contractor or military members to get the mission done.”

After the storm, the team left the stadium and returned to the base to assess the damage and execute the recovery plan.

“Jadee understood how critical the wing and the two combatant commands are to our nation's defense and daily operations,” said Jason. “Her efforts to translate the wing commander's vision into a safe evacuation, shutdown of operations and reopening allowed thousands of military members and families to get out of the hurricane's path while wing leadership and the small team executed the mission as required.”

In the wake of the storm, MacDill and the Tampa Bay community came together because of people like Jadee who remained mission focused to ensure the safety of the area and its people.