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Naval Special Warfare Pulls Together to Help Evacuees of San Diego Fires

10/24/2007

By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Michelle L. Kapica, Naval Special Warfare Command Public Affairs

CORONADO, Calif. (NNS) -- As wild fires threaten Southern California for the third straight night, the Naval Special Warfare community is working tirelessly to help those families who have been evacuated find some comfort and shelter.      

At least 34 Naval Special Warfare (NSW) active-duty personnel and their family members had arrived as of Oct. 23 at Naval Air Station North Island. They were received at a makeshift emergency shelter located within Special Boat Team 12's Mark V boat hangar at the northwest end of the base. More families are expected to arrive Oct. 24 as the fire spreads and thousands of more homes are evacuated in the southern and northern parts of the county. 

The hangar usually houses Mark V boats used to carry Special Operations Forces, primarily SEAL combat swimmers, into and out of operations. These boats have been moved out of the hangar to make room for the displaced families. Now, green military cots line one side of the hangar, while the center is dedicated to toys and a play space for children.

Military and civilian volunteers have been working around the clock to assemble the cots, and provide blankets, games, toys and everyday essentials to evacuated families. Partitions are also being erected to provide some privacy at the shelter.    

"We're just trying to keep everybody as comfortable as we can right now," said Laura Meer, a military spouse and volunteer at the Mark V hangar.

Not all of the volunteers at the hangar are adults. Some military children are also lending a hand, entertaining the younger children with magic shows and doing what they can to help.     

"Our older children, who are Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts here in Coronado, have stepped up to help out," said Meek. "We're just pooling all our resources. Within about half an hour, we had play mats and all of us pulled this stuff together."

Volunteers have even been watching the children to give parents time to either shower or just relax for a moment after the stress of the day.

"They've been wonderful, especially the wives," said Shannon Valles, an evacuee who will spend a second night at the shelter with her family of five. "They came in and brought toys for the children. That I think above all has been the biggest help. They came in last night and set up a projector so that the kids could watch a movie. They brought in blankets, pillows and sheets."  

The Valles family chose to voluntarily evacuate from their home in Chula Vista, Calif.

 "As soon as we heard they were suggesting a voluntary evacuation, we loaded up and came here," said Valles. "We brought pictures, important papers, and a couple of day's worth of clothes and medicine just the stuff that we had to have."

Rear Adm. Garry J. Bonelli, deputy commander, Naval Special Warfare Command, visited the facility and spoke with evacuees about what they needed to make their stay as comfortable as possible.      

"I think the Naval Special Warfare community has always been a family and at times of crisis like this with the fires here in San Diego County, we have really come together," said Bonelli.

Bonelli said he was impressed with the service members and volunteers at the Mark V hangar who had transformed it into a shelter overnight. 

"To see young kids in there playing basketball, watching movies and seeing all the pets in the Mark V facility is something that wasn't envisioned, but it's a good facility to do that kind of thing," said Bonelli.

Capt. Thomas L. Brown II, commander, Naval Special Warfare Group 1, also toured the facility with Bonelli.

"I'm really happy with the way that the individual team members and families came together with the ombudsman and the family support network," said Brown. "I think it has worked out great so far."

With the Santa Ana winds whipping through the San Diego sky, the fires are quickly spreading to heavily populated communities and many more areas expect to be under a mandatory evacuation soon. 

"We've got to be ready," said Brown. "At some point the families helping other families will be overwhelmed. Some of the families that took in families are in areas that are now threatened by the fires, so that's my biggest concern."

"We do have contingency plans in place," said Bonelli. "Based on the cedar fires we had four years ago, and the hurt it put on the NSW family, I think we did a much better job in planning for it and we're very well prepared this time."

Volunteers anticipate up to 60 more NSW families may need to use the shelter over the next few days and are continuing to improve the living conditions.

For more news from Naval Special Warfare, visit www.navy.mil/local/nsw/.


 


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