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Real Heroes of the Storm

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter
and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column
Published on 11/4/12 by The Alternative

Super Storm Sandy

Down tree limbs and damaged power lines were common sight in New Jersey after “Super Storm Sandy” touched down throughout the state.

I want to take a moment and thank those who have been on the forefront of the relief and recovery efforts of Hurricane Sandy, in my home state of New Jersey.  Recently, I was on my way home last Sunday from the Mid-west on some business, (ironically meeting with county government department heads on lessening their environmental impact) and there I was on route 80, finding myself surrounded by a swarm of commercial vehicles.  My trip began with leaving the City of Rockford, Illinois Saturday night, and by the time I hit Indiana, I was sharing the highway with fleets and fleets of vehicles, driven by those that would be now assisting in our recovery efforts from what is considered the “largest storm to ever hit the Northeast”.

Down the highway I traveled, I would read the license plates of those that ventured as far away as Colorado and Iowa and even Texas.  On the door were the names of utility companies and tree removal firms I never heard of.  This was not your average convoy of semi-truck traffic one would expect to see traveling down one of the most popular corridors in the America; by far it was very different indeed.  As these men and women stared deeply into the windshields and windows in front of them, the expressions on their faces were of intensity and focus.  They had this knowingness that they were headed into battle with Mother Nature, and had no time to think otherwise about those they were leaving behind at home to trek across country in order to serve people and communities they would have never met otherwise.

These men and women who donned the battle shields of names like Lewis Tree Service and US Sign Company on the side of their vehicles, had their heads forward drowning in the sea of asphalt that made up the highway in front of them.  As I got closer to the New Jersey State Border I could see seas of utility truck after utility truck, tree service truck after tree service truck dot the landscape at every highway rest stop, travel service center, truck stop, where once big rigs ruled the night and early morning.  It was a sign I knew we were in for the “big storm”, and it was a sign that this country has many warriors; it is just a matter of the type of uniform they wear.

As these men and women drove on, I wondered about the thoughts they had.  I wonder if they ever requested for work, a working microphone and podium, or if they had a chief of staff that organized the press so they could have their picture taken.  I wondered if they had any assistants behind the scenes making sure that the utility workers had crowds of people to ask them questions or give them applause when their moment was over.  I wonder if these people had someone making sure they had a fresh shirt or tie so when the President comes to town, they could get give him a tour.

The answer was no.  These individuals go unnamed into the night, work overtime past overtime, drenched in sweat and debris, living in crowed motel rooms, cramming in just a few hours’ sleep, so we have all of the modern conveniences that make our lives comfortable, available to us again.  These individuals made a choice to do what many of us would not do, leave our families, brave the storm, and sacrifice their comforts so we can have our comforts restored.

I found it to be very interesting that whenever I had turned on the news (radio or television) it was not the utility worker claiming the glory of the good deeds done.  It was a person who did not properly prepare for the storm complained about not having enough, yet they themselves would not take saw or shovel in hand and be proactive in getting the job done.  These were people complaining the utility workers were not moving fast enough.  Many of these people choose to stay in areas that were predicted to be hard hit and instructed to evacuate the area.

Changing the dial on the radio or the channel on the television I found another group of people claiming the glory for all that they did for their city and state, behind a podium with a neatly pressed shirt and tie, as if they were never in the storm in the first place.  Many of these individuals praised each other for their efforts among their peers, many of them elected officials who seem to have plenty of accolades for other elected officials.  I knew for sure these individuals were not the ones in the trenches getting the trees freed from roads or hanging out of bucket trucks getting the power back on.

When you see these men and women covered in rain gear and tool belts, before you flood them with request to fix the cable so you can catch that new episode of whatever is on television no days, and thank them for the hard work they are doing, thank them for putting themselves in danger’s way so we can be safe hidden behind the comforts of home.  Thank them for leaving their families behind and living on the road while clearing the down tree that knock out the power in front of your home.  Thank them for being their ready to man their battle stations before the politicians even took the podium at the press conference.  Be thankful they are here to do their job, without question.  Be humble and thankful of their efforts to get us back to normalcy again.

Know that they cannot rush a good job, and are putting their safety at risk so you can continue to watch the elected officials tout their achievements on the television or from the speaker of the radio.  The basics of having an attitude of gratitude just might get that tree removed in front of your driveway a bit faster.

And when they get home, they have no idea of the challenges they face, of the cleanup they will have to take part in, or how long they will have to call that motel room in your neighborhood home until the job is done.  Know that the only reward for those that traveled cross country to assist the Northeast in cleaning up Sandy’s aftermath, is that they get to go to bed each night resting their head on their pillow, knowing they did their very best, knowing they worked their hardest, and that they did the right thing, for strangers they call fellow Americans.

So I will see you in The Green Lane.

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