SPC John Shirley of the Florida Army National Guard (ARNG) wasn’t surprised when he received a call to mobilize for the Hurricane Matthew relief efforts in September 2016.
Hurricane Matthew hadn’t made landfall yet, but the southeastern part of the United States was expecting a devastating storm. A week before it was scheduled to make landfall, the Florida ARNG was busy creating action plans and coordinating with local law enforcement to prepare for the storm.
On a Wednesday afternoon, two days before Hurricane Matthew landed on the beaches of Florida, Shirley received the call to report to the coastal city of St. Augustine.
He realized right away that this mission would be much different than any of his other missions with the Florida ARNG. As a member of the 221st Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Company, his typical duties include working with local law enforcement as an EOD technician or training other ARNG units on how to handle explosives.
When asked how the Hurricane Matthew relief efforts compared, Shirley said, “This was a 180 from what I usually do. I’m usually teaching during my missions, and those trainings are very regimented. This mission was less structured; I just went and helped out where I could.”
During his five days in St. Augustine, he did a little of everything. He worked with local law enforcement to patrol the area, reported on downed power lines and trees, and checked on citizens who stayed behind to make sure they were safe. During one rescue mission, Shirley saved an elderly man and his two dogs from chest-deep water. After the man tried to leave the area at the last minute, his car got stuck and he was unable to get out. As other Soldiers carried the man to safety, Shirley saved the two frightened dogs.
If Shirley has one takeaway from this mission, it is that it reinforced the importance of being in a constant state of readiness.
“Whether it’s being in shape or having your financials in check, if you are prepared, you can afford to take off work or school at a moment’s notice,” he said. “I don’t like waiting until the last minute to do anything. I know some guys wait until the week of the event to prep for their APFT, but I have been involved in enough last-minute missions to know it’s best to always stay prepared.”
Staying in shape is an important part of being ready. Whether it’s a daily run or meal prepping for the week, Shirley believes every small step is worth it to be prepared.