Torn Apart by a Tornado
By Lori (Schulze) Buresh '00
It is hard to put into words what it is like when your world is torn apart by a tornado. I live in Carthage, Missouri near Joplin, where on May 22, 2011 my family and I survived an EF-5 tornado. Unfortunately, 162 people and over 7,000 homes did not.
The pictures on television cannot accurately portray the reality of the city after that storm. Much of the city’s infrastructure and landmarks were destroyed. As it happens, during this time a team of midshipmen, led by one of my classmates, LCDR John Woods ‘00, were in the area for a USNA summer training evolution through the Oceanography Department called SWIFT (Severe Weather In-Field Training). Two days after the storm, the training group diverted to the Joplin area to assist with Search and Rescue before returning to Annapolis. During their search in the debris field just outside of town, the team found a tattered American flag in the woods and took it with them back to USNA.
Those mids never forgot Joplin or the aftermath they witnessed of the storm. Four of the members of the original team, along with six other members of MAG (Midshipmen Action Group), decided to return to Joplin in March 2012. Led by Midshipman Stephanie Migut ’12, this group of ten mids gave up their spring break. My guess is they gave up a lot to come to Joplin, but looking back on it, I bet they were glad they chose “the road less traveled.”
The storm was ten months ago. Joplin has come a long way since then; yet there are still jarring reminders of what happened. Houses still in shambles and businesses are still torn apart; the rebuilding of lives continues. The midshipmen were put to work with a local Lutheran church-based foundation called Transform Joplin. The team worked on cleaning glass and debris out of yards for people who were unable to do so for themselves, re-shingling roofs and preparing housing foundations for new homes. The mids worked very hard for Joplin, and the families they helped are incredibly grateful.
As a Blue & Gold Officer for the Four States area (SW Missouri, SE KS, NW OK and a tiny bit of AR), I jumped at the chance to support these mids when they offered to visit a local school to promote the USNA STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Math) program. At a local elementary school, Stephanie Migut ’12, Ryan Schmidt ’13, Marhall Liu ’14 and Lucille Lu ‘14 conducted science experiments with the kids and answered their sweet, very honest questions. Who knows? Maybe one of these young fourth graders will become a midshipman one day.
Remember the flag the mids had found during shortly after the tornado hit? John Woods arranged to have the flag delivered to CDR Timothy A. Rexrode, CO of the USS MISSOURI (SSN 780) to fly over the submarine in honor of Joplin. A case was made specifically for the tattered flag at USNA which was then presented to the Mayor of Joplin, Mike Woolston, during the mids’ trip. The Mayor is a former Marine Corps officer who was touched not only by the fact the midshipmen brought the flag back home but that they were helping Joplin’s citizens. There is a plan to build a museum in Joplin dedicated to the tornado, and the flag will be prominently displayed there.
Toward the end of the trip, the mids and I travelled south of Joplin to Bentonville to meet with the Arkansas alumni, most notably RDML Luke McCollum ’83, at Wal-Mart headquarters. There we had a short leadership symposium with other Wal-Mart alumni where we told sea stories and some lessons learned for the mids. After a wonderful lunch together, we all visited Crystal Bridges, the brand new Museum of American Art in Bentonville. Again, the visitors to the museum were amazed to see midshipmen in uniform. It was uplifting to have civilians, adults and children stop the midshipmen to ask them about where they were from and their experiences. The more we can promote the Naval Academy the better!
To bring this story to a close, I can only say I was intensely proud of the midshipmen. As we transit through the Academy and leave its hallowed halls, we can only hope that the classes that come after us will continue to uphold the traditions and honor of our school and the Navy. This team showed the Southwest Missouri area the best of what the United States Naval Academy stands for.
It should be noted that funding for the trip was made possible by the USNA Alumni Foundation, and assistance with lodging and food were provided for by alumni from Missouri and Arkansas.