As we celebrate our national Thanksgiving holiday, let's not forget those affected by Hurricane Sandy. The devastation along the East Coast reminds us to be grateful for the daily comforts and conveniences we often take for granted.
The storm also provides me with an opportunity to thank everyone from DOT who has pitched in to help restore the region and its transportation system. I'm grateful to all of them for their perseverance during a complex and difficult time.
And as the students at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy return to their families for Thanksgiving, I'd like to offer them a special thanks for their recent efforts.
After weathering the storm with power outages and minor structural damage, the Academy community directed its attention to those whose lives were turned upside down.
Frist, with support from the Parents Association, Plebe Weston Iannone led the Class of 2016 in donating items from friends and family nationwide to help the hardest hit areas of New York. Midshipmen Matt Finlayson, Spencer Fletcher, and Christopher Benard worked with CAPT David Taliaferro (USMMA '07) of the Army National Guard, who arranged for an Army vehicle to pick up and deliver donations to a nearby distribution center.
As more news of the widespread devastation spread, our midshipmen responded again, and Spencer Fletcher organized a relief project to help communities--like the Rockaways--hit hard by Sandy.
As CAPT McManus said, “I am very happy to do this for the midshipmen. We joke about our rivalry, but at the end of the day we always support each other to get the job done.”
On November 11, Veterans Day, 272 midshipmen left Kings Point for Rockaway in a convoy of eight school buses financed completely by the Class of 2013. After a briefing at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, they were deployed to different areas for service.
The USMMA volunteers worked side-by-side with relief groups to clean homes and remove sand from area streets. They removed tons of clothing and erected a huge tent to protect these items from the next expected storm. They also provided needed logistical support by sorting and distributing food donations and delivering hot food to homebound elderly residents.
Plebe Weston Iannone observed, “We were in a neighborhood where entire groups of houses were burnt to the ground or even swept out to sea. Words cannot describe the level of devastation; the photos do not do it justice."
On November 17, midshipmen volunteers returned to Rockaway, where they again removed debris and sand from many homes. Midshipman Kristen Bell said, “ I made it my personal effort to be extra mindful of the homeowners, the victims. Any pictures we found, we cleaned off and laid out to dry. We tried to save anything we could that would give these poor people a small sense of normalcy.”
Upon their return, Academy Superintendent Rear Admiral Helis complimented the students: “ I could not be prouder of our midshipmen. Their service truly brings life to our motto, Acta non verba."
That means, "deeds, not words," and I couldn't agree more.
So, this Thanksgiving, my heartfelt thanks go out to these young volunteers for making such a difference in the lives of those hit hard by this storm, and for representing the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and DOT so well.