Cajun Navy Ground Force 2022 Year In Review

TThe Cajun Navy Ground Force deployed into areas of natural disaster for more than nine months during 2022. We responded to five different major disasters:

  1. The Mayfield Kentucky Tornado
  2. The Marshal Fire in Boulder, Colorado
  3. The Arabi, Louisiana Tornado
  4. The Eastern Kentucky historical flood
  5. Hurricane Ian in South West Florida

The Cajun Navy Ground Force received tremendous support from 2,500 volunteers throughout the year totaling some 15,000 hours that totaled $405,000 in offset compensation. These volunteers mucked-out 118 homes, did 16 minor home repairs, tarped 45 roofs, did 230 debris cleanup jobs, conducted 39 supply and food deliveries, made 1,200 wellness visits to the elderly and disabled, 364 medical visits, 80 mental health checks, and delivered a countless amount of hope to those impacted by these disasters.

The following is a summary of the actions taken by the Cajun Navy Ground Force and the services provided to those impacted by natural disasters.

Western Kentucky

On December 10, 2021 a violent, long-tracked tornado ripped through western Kentucky, eliciting an immediate and massive response from the Cajun Navy Ground Force (CNGF) as well as many other volunteer organizations from far and wide. The Cajun Navy Ground Force partnered with the Walmart Foundation, Salvation Army, Red Cross, Tool Bank, Operation BBQ Relief, Americares, Jet Fuel, as well as many local churches and charities.

After working through Thanksgiving and Christmas, delivering meals and toys in addition to our ongoing recovery efforts, our dedicated crew rang in 2022 with the spirit of hope and service the Cajun Navy Ground Force is known for.

Once local Long Term Recovery Groups began to organize rebuilding strategies, Cajun Navy Ground Force continued to help in more focused ways before finally moving our operations to the next community that needed our help.

Boulder County, Colorado

On December 30, 2021, what started as a grass fire in Boulder County, Colorado, quickly ripped through 6,026 acres including nearby homes and buildings. The destructive fire became known as the Marshall Fire and it is the most destructive fire in Colorado history in terms of structures lost.

Within hours of the fire’s containment, Cajun Navy Ground Force was on site and in planning meetings with the local VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters), coordinating with organizations such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, Team Rubicon, and SBC Disaster Relief. For nearly 8 weeks, crews of volunteers battled the brutal cold to assist affected homeowners as they cleared their properties and meticulously searched for any bits and pieces of their lives that may have survived the flames.

Day after day, our crews donned safety gear including head-to-toe Tyvek suits, gloves, and goggles and used crude, handmade mesh strainers to sift through quadrants of ash and debris looking for mementos. Many tears were shed as special items were discovered hidden in the ashes but none so poignant as when a family’s grandfather’s Purple Heart medal from World War II was unearthed. Due to the expertise and collaboration we bring to the table at every response, in just two weeks, the Cajun Navy Ground Force team earned the respect of local authorities and became one of only three organizations allowed to enter certain hazard zones. This family’s burn site was in one such restricted neighborhood, reminding us yet again that our spirit of integration and cooperation with local disaster management agencies have far-reaching effects.

Arabi, Louisiana

Less than a month after concluding our response to the Colorado wildfires, a severe EF-3 tornado ripped through Arabi, Louisiana. We’d been all over the country helping other neighbors and it was now time to help our own brothers and sisters. Several CNGF teams journeyed all night to be the first disaster response organization on the ground. Meanwhile, our remote support teams worked tirelessly making phone calls and connections to help our efforts become operational as quickly as possible. Cajun Navy Ground Force was on site as the sun rose to reveal utter devastation across a heavily populated group of neighborhoods. Councilman Gillis McCloskey and a local labor union joined forced with the Cajun Navy Ground Force to assess damage and distribute hot coffee on foot to law enforcement, linemen, and residents. Just down the road at a local Walmart partner, our SAFE Camp was set up within hours, partnering with the Salvation Army, Red Cross, Chef Denesha, and Operations BBQ Relief to provide hot meals for survivors, line workers, and volunteers alike. More than once we were called on by the National Guard to supplement meals being provided to our service men and women as well as members of the community.

While our SAFE Camp team took care of feeding the community and providing supplies, our Community Caretaking teams worked door-to-door, helping homeowners with damage feel more stable and secure. They managed jobs like cutting large trees from roofs to make tarping possible, boarding up shattered windows and missing doors, and fixing broken steps. Some homeowners just needed a hug a listening ear, while others required heavy equipment to remove large portions of a once-intact home that now partially rested in the middle of a nearby neighborhood street. Every arm of our organization worked together to help the disaster zone feel supported and cared for.

 

Eastern Kentucky

Some members of the Cajun Navy Ground Force probably felt a rush of déjà vu as they arrived in Eastern Kentucky to respond to a rash of 1,000-year floods that swept through multiple counties, engulfing homes and landscapes and causing 43 to perish. This same scenario in Louisiana in 2016 was the catalyst for the founding of the Cajun Navy but no amount of passed time and/or experience could have prepared them for what lay ahead. The mountainous terrain was a major factor in efficiency and ability in trying to reach those in need and providing aid. The incredible capacity to collaborate with other organizations, including local churches, political and community leaders, the Red Cross, AmeriCorps, Team Rubicon, the National Guard, CORE, SBPUSA, and countless others laid the foundation and provided the tools to be so successful in reaching those in need.

Cajun Navy Ground Force is still involved in recovery efforts in Eastern Kentucky as the focus moves into long term recovery territory.

 

North Fort Myers/Fort Myers Beach, Florida

As Cajun Navy Ground Force teams mucked mud from flood-ravaged homes in Eastern Kentucky, their attention was frequently diverted to a large storm system approaching the Gulf of Mexico. That storm system quickly became known as Hurricane Ian. The Hurricane was predicted to hit the Tampa Bay, Florida area, then suddenly turned inward toward Ft. Myers Beach 150 miles south of Tampa Bay, just twelve hours before hitting land as a Category 4 hurricane.

While Tampa Bay residents had been preparing for days for the hurricane, even instituting mandatory evacuations in all areas close to the water, residents in the Fort Myers Beach area were going about their lives only expecting a little wind and rain. When it became known that Hurricane Ian had made its rapid change of direction, the Cajun Navy Ground Force also made a rapid change and began moving assets into North West Florida. The day after the eye of the hurricane passed over Ft. Myers Beach, Sanibel Island, and Pine Island devastating everything in its path, the Cajun Navy arrived in Fort Myers quickly establishing a SAFE Camp in the Big Lots parking lot in North Fort Myers and then shortly thereafter established another SAFE Camp in South Fort Myers in the Walmart parking lot.

Food, water, electricity, and gasoline were quickly unavailable to everyone in the area. The Cajun Navy Ground Force quickly put technology to use putting out a call to action on social media and the American people came forward in mass with donations and the willingness to help. Millions of dollars in donations began arriving at the Cajun Navy Ground Force SAFE Camp and soon the Big Lots parking lot was full of pallets of non-perishable food, water, diapers, flashlights, tents, sleeping bags, you name it. If it was necessary to sustain the people all we had to do was ask for it and it arrived. The American people were unbelievably generous with their donations and their time.

The first ten days following the hurricane the Cajun Navy Ground Force had hundreds of volunteers filling people’s cars with food, water, and anything else we received that they indicated they needed to survive. Vehicles were lined up for miles as volunteers worked tirelessly in the hot Florida sun for 8 to 10 hours a day.

Pine Island, Florida

After giving away over ten million dollars in goods, the Cajun Navy Ground Force made the decision to move their SAFE Camp onto Pine Island. The kind people at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Catholic Church located in the center of Pine Island allowed us to use a portion of their parking Lot to set up our SAFE Camp. The Pine Island community has a large elderly and disabled population that were unable to receive the immediate help needed so the Cajun Navy Ground force quickly began moving through neighborhoods searching for those in need of help.

Those in need were not hard to find and the Cajun Navy Ground Force quickly began forming teams of volunteers to get help into these neighborhoods full of disabled and elderly residents. During our time on Pine Island, we hosted two AmeriCorps teams and a group of young men and women from Celebration Church Tri-Cities in Bristol, Tennessee. These teams and dozens of other volunteers from around the country between mid-October and mid-December mucked out over fifty homes, delivered meals to countless residents, and our volunteer nurses and EMTs made countless home visits to check on the elderly and disabled.

The last of the Cajun Navy Ground Force left Pine Island on December 20, 2022. On January 1, 2023 we returned with the team from Celebration Church Tri-Cities in Bristol, Tennessee and departed again on January 11, 2023.

The Cajun Navy Ground Force continues receive request for help and are hard at work behind the scenes to provide continued care for those impacted by Hurricane Ian.

  • If you live in the area impacted by any of these disasters and still need assistance please contact jennifer@gocajunnavy.org
  • Please visit Give.GoCajunNavy.org to donate and help up us protect and stabilize the disabled and elderly victims of natural disaster!
  • If you would like to volunteer or join us when the next disaster hits please visit GoCajunNavy.org/volunteer and sign up!

Only God knows what disasters will come in the year 2023, but the Cajun Navy Ground Force knows they will be ready to respond in force when the need arises. This is only made possible by those who volunteer and financially support our mission and we are grateful to everyone for their support.