FRANKFORT, Ky. – As the tornadoes that hit western Kentucky bore down on the small farms and towns, residents ducked into their bathrooms, closets or any other place they could find to ride out the massive storm.
One of those residents seeking shelter was a young Kentucky National Guardsman with the 2113th Transportation Company. He survived the storm, only to be called on a few hours later to join his unit to help the many others in need.
Pfc. Cody Warmath, 19, was home with his father, his 12-year-old sister and family dogs the night of Dec 10, watching weather reports showing the path of the large tornado heading for their home in Benton.
“It was pretty calm for a while leading up to 9:30 p.m.,” said Warmath. “We could see on the radar the tornado was coming for our house, and we had to choose to either to leave our stuff there or stay with it.”
They decided to stay and shelter in the bathroom.
“At about 9:50 p.m., the house just started shaking really violently. Then it got really quiet for a second before glass just started exploding all over the house. Everything was just falling over, stuff in the bathroom started falling over. It lasted maybe 5 seconds and then it was done. You don’t realize how bad the damage is until you walk outside and everything’s just gone.”
Though the house still stood, half of the roof was blown off and was leaning to one side. The storm blew Warmath’s room — a detached garage — off the foundation and took his mattress away.
“We had a barn and a camper. Camper’s wrapped around a tree in the backyard somewhere,” Warmath said. “The barn’s gone. We had this little farm area in the back and all the animals got blown away except for like a couple pigs. We had goats, chickens and ducks but they were all gone.”
The insurance company declared the house a total loss, and the family’s five cars were all damaged.
Despite the property damage, no one in the house was injured.
A few hours later, Warmath’s first line leader called asking if he would be able to join his unit, which was activating to help those in need.
“I got a call like 3:30 in the morning from my readiness NCO, Staff Sgt. Martin Athenas, saying Gov. Beshear was deploying the Guard and he asked if I wanted to volunteer,” Warmath recalled.” I thought to myself, ‘Well, I guess there’s no better time than now to volunteer,’ so then I left at about 7:30 that morning.”
After his mother, a traveling nurse, returned to the area, he told her about his decision.
“I had to volunteer,” he told his mother. “I was like, ‘Mom, I have to go. I have to help. There are people out there that are in worse condition than we are, and it was better than me sitting at home just being sad because my stuff is gone. I can go help other people.’”
He reported to the armory in Paducah and was sent to Cayce to clear roads, sort supplies and help any way he could.
While he was out working with his unit, Kentucky Guard leaders visited. He met with Brig. Gen. Brian Wertzler, deputy adjutant general-Kentucky, and Col. Tim Starke, director of operations for the Kentucky National Guard.
“His battalion commander, Lt. Col. LaShana Waller, had told me that he was down there. So I kind of tracked him down out there while we were in Fulton County and I just asked him how he was doing,” said Starke. “Man, you lost your house, but here you are. I told him, ‘You know you don’t have to be out here right?’
“He is everything the National Guard is all about. If ever there is an example of selflessness, it’s him. He first and foremost made sure his family was OK and was going to be safe and taken care of, but then he thought the best thing he could be doing was being back out there, helping the community. I was absolutely blown away by it, and I know Brig. Gen. Wertzler was as well.”
After he completed his mission in Fulton County, he returned to his civilian job as a certified nursing assistant at Shiftkey, which contracts out nurses to work at nursing homes. He was attending Murray State for a nursing degree but has put that on pause to regroup.
His family has been staying in a local hotel for the last month while they find a new place to live and clean up the mess the tornado made of their current property.
“I’m just amazed how helpful the community has been like just seeing everybody come together and help each other,” Warmath said. ”... We were working at the Cayce Baptist Church to get donations. And it got to the point where we couldn’t take anymore because we had an influx of so many donations. People are coming down as far as from Texas to come help out, and I am truly thankful.”