Among the thousands of volunteers helping the victims of Superstorm Sandy in New York and New Jersey, hundreds of military veterans have turned out to help.
For this group, work like this seems to address a real need for a sense of mission. Former troops who have been cleaning up and rebuilding say that volunteering helps them as much as it supports the local residents.
In front of Sami McFarlanes’ house off Rockaway Beach Boulevard in Queens, a group of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans take chain saws to a huge spruce tree hung up on wires.
Sandy hit Rockaway Beach with the worst combination of elements: flood, then fires caused by the wind and waves. The neighborhood is still dark, with too many sodden wires and downed trees to restore electricity.
McFarlanes and his family stayed through the storm, watching in fear as the water rose and fires leveled scores of homes. Now, McFarlane is trying to get his house back in habitable shape, with plenty of help.
“They are volunteers, they are doing great work for the grace of God and the country, and we really appreciate their work,” he says.
This particular group, most of them combat vets, sees camping out in a disaster zone differently: They love it. They almost need it.
“Eight of us broke off — we slept in a church last night on the second floor that we converted, just like we would in Afghanistan,” says veteran Kyle Murphy.