SAND SPRINGS, Okla. – Two weeks ago, a man named Bob and the Soldiers of Headquarters Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 279th Infantry Regiment had never met. They would have never met. They would have continued being perfect strangers and never knowing of the other's existence. But due to torrential rainfall and catastrophic natural disasters occurring across Oklahoma and the surrounding states, Bob and these Guard members were soon to meet.
On May 24, members of the 279th were sent to a site along a levee in Sand Springs, Oklahoma. There was severe flooding and the looming threat of homes being affected. The mission of these Soldiers was to monitor and maintain the pumps that were placed on the property to move the water and put it into the creek on the other side of the levee.
When events like flooding, tornados, or other disasters hit the state, the Oklahoma National Guard activates for state active duty upon the request of the Oklahoma Office of Emergency Management and with approval from the governor of Oklahoma.
"I got here last Friday," said Sgt. Vince Humerickhouse, a Stillwater resident and an infantryman with HHC 1-279 Infantry Battalion, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. "We didn't know what we were getting into."
For the first day or two, the Soldiers remained in or around their vehicle during their shift monitoring the pumps. A kind man named Bob who owned the property would come out every now and then and check on them.
"He was always asking if we needed anything," said Spc. Kailey Bellville, a unit supply specialist from Miami, Oklahoma with HHC 1-279. "He would bring us food and drinks, make sure we had enough water."
He even offered them a more comfortable place to get out of the sun and maintain the pumps, under the shade of his hand-welded gazebo, adorned with classic decorations and lawn furniture. At first, the Soldiers respectfully declined. At the persistence of Bob's selfless and giving nature, the Guardsmen graciously accepted his invitation.
Over the next several days, Bob and the Soldiers developed a rapport and a working relationship. The Soldiers would fulfill their mission while Bob kept them company and took them under his wing. He cooked food, let them use his gator, a side-by-side off-road vehicle, and simply offered them the care and support of a grateful and appreciative community member.
"Bob has been a really great blessing to us and thanking him just doesn't cover it," said Spc. Allison Smith, a combat medic specialist from Salina, Oklahoma, with HHC 1-279. "This mission would have been a lot harder if we didn't have the support from neighbors like Bob and other people in the community."
The acts of kindness from Sand Springs residents fueled the Oklahoma Guard members in a way that you rarely get to witness first-hand.
"The unlimited energy these Soldiers have, how do they keep going?" asked Bob Casebold, a Sand Springs resident and owner of the land that the Soldiers were monitoring. "Carrying sandbags, wading through water, filling sand boils and things like that."
It didn't take long for Bob to gain notoriety through the ranks of the Guardsmen responding to the floods across the Tulsa metro area. Miles away, at the main hub for flood operations, the name Bob was buzzing around the building. The stories of his selflessness and support were being told by people who hadn't even met Bob. Everyone wanted to shake the hand of the man who had given back so much to the Soldiers who were protecting his community.
"We did not ask for these guys to come down here," Bob said. "They volunteered and came down here to help us; to protect us. It was totally amazing and I appreciate it so much."
Bob would be the last person to pat himself on the back for his support of these Soldiers, but that certainly wasn't lost of the Soldiers he helped.
"He's one of the cornerstones to the support of this mission out here in the area," Smith said. "It's awesome knowing that they rely on us and we can depend on them if we have to."
Now that conditions are improving for the time being, Soldiers and residents can take a deep breath and work on returning back to normal life. But the bonds that were made during this trying time are going to remain long after the guardsmen return to their homes and families.
"I definitely believe that God put me out here to help these people," Humerickhouse said. "And I believe coming out here and meeting Bob was meant to be."
"It's an experience I'll never forget," Bob said. "It comes from a bad deal, but I've made some great friends. I would consider them lifelong friends."